FEBRUARY 2017 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
I began my letter last month with some thank-yous for all that happened over Christmas. This month I must do the same but for a very different reason. Most of you will know that Rosemary, my wife, broke her hip while we were away in Amsterdam early in January. Since then we have a huge amount to say thank-you for. For the love and prayers that we felt winging across the North Sea while Ro was in hospital. For the colleagues who made last-minute changes to their diaries to make sure that services were covered in my absence. And for all of the offers of help, gifts, flowers and even meals that have come our way in the days since our return. Thank you all so much – it really does mean a huge amount to us both. Ro is mending, slowly, but, as I’m sure you know, double fractures of the femur take a while to recover from and she is likely to be off work for three months – which amounts to an enforced early retirement (Ro was planning to retire at Easter). But all will be well and spring isn’t so far away ……
Lent is not so far away either – Ash Wednesday falls on March 1st. During the Lent season we plan to hold discussion groups / courses in more than one venue. Precise details will be announced very soon but the meetings are likely to be based on our existing discussion and bible-study groups that meet in both Aldeburgh and the Whinlands villages.
As the shops put away their Christmas cards for another year the space they had occupied begins to be filled with Valentine’s Day cards. The church remembers St Valentine, though remarkably little is known about him. We do know that he was a Roman who lived in the 3rd century and that he was martyred on February 14th . That day was first established as an important day in the church calendar by Pope Gelasius I in the year 496 and he included Valentine among all of those “… whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are known only to God.” In other words even he didn’t really know much about him! One of the legends that grew up about Valentine was that he secretly married couples so that husbands would not have to go to war. Perhaps this is the start of the association of Valentine and Valentine’s Day with matters of the heart. It is certainly true that by the 14th century Valentine’s feast-day had become associated with romantic love and it seems that Geoffrey Chaucer, no less, may have had a hand in ‘helping’ a legend or two to take root.
We have our own celebration of St Valentine on Sunday February 12th when ‘The Hopeless Romantics’ will perform words and music on the theme of love in Aldeburgh Church at 3pm. The music is from the 18th and 20th centuries – by the little-known but fascinating Scottish 18th-century composer James Oswald and by the great George Gershwin. The words span a wide variety of sources from the Bible to children’s poetry. There really should be, as the saying goes, something for everyone and the concert will be presented by Clare Fleck, Archivist at Knebworth House where James Oswald lived for a time. It all sounds most intriguing!
With my love and prayers, as ever
January 2017 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
I should begin with the thank-yous. In all of our churches many people worked very hard to make our Christmas services the undoubted success that they were and if I haven’t had the chance to say a personal thank-you then please accept my thanks now. The churches looked magnificent, the music was wonderful, large numbers of people were welcomed and cared-for and, all in all, Christ’s birth was celebrated with due ceremony and a great deal of cheer. I feel privileged to have been a part of it all.
So here we are in 2017, a year in which we hope to complete the formalities of our growing together and discover some new ways of being church as well as building on existing successes. But a new year is a good time for reflection as well as anticipation and with that in mind I would like to, to quote Dylan Thomas, ‘begin at the beginning’. What is church and what is it for?
‘Church’ derives from the Greek word ‘ekklesia’, whose original meaning was simply a gathering of people outside the home and, usually, with a common purpose. A gathering to watch sport is an ‘ekklesia’, a gathering at a political meeting is an ‘ekklesia’ but, of course, a gathering of religious folk is an ‘ekklesia’ too. And so a ‘church’ is a gathering of people with a common purpose. What might that be? One answer is, of course, to worship. Defined as ‘The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity’. There is, though, for Christians something even bigger behind that definition. Paul’s letters speak of the early church as being ‘the body of Christ’ (‘Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it’ – 1 Corinthians 12: 27.) One of the introductions to the peace that we use in the Holy Communion service says ‘We are the body of Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and build up our common life.’ Extending the metaphor, the 16th-century St Teresa of Avila said ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.’ That is what the church is – nothing less that the body of Christ here on earth in 2017. Everything that we do must be informed by that. We have that awesome responsibility. To put it bluntly it’s not about us, it’s about God – and God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, at work in a world so desperately in need of what Jesus brought it when he was at work in the world – hope, love and a reminder to everyone that they are surrounded by the love of God. It is now our job to, as Jesus did, ‘point to the Father’ and to show the Father’s love to the world. Every offering that we make of our skill, our energy, our gifts and talents is not for our glory but for God’s.
Our Methodist friends begin each new year with what they call a ‘covenant service’, whose origins go right back to John Wesley himself. At the heart of that service is the Covenant Prayer. It is uncomfortable, challenging and, to use the word in its old-fashioned sense, awful. But at the start of 2017 there is no better prayer for us all.
‘I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.’
With my love and prayers, as ever
December 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
Firstly my apologies to those in the Whinlands villages for the absence of anything from me in the December Parish Magazine. It’s entirely my fault – I simply missed the deadline. It will not happen again. But something of what I was going to say follows …..
‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it’. Words from the very beginning of John’s Gospel and which will be read at plenty of church services around Christmas. For us in the northern hemisphere Christmas comes at a time when the world is at its darkest and we are able to enjoy evening services such as Christingle or a Carol Service and see our churches illuminated with the magic of candlelight. It makes the symbol all the more potent – Jesus, the light of the World, shining in the darkness. I have never visited the southern hemisphere at Christmas and have often wondered what Christmas on the beach or by the swimming-pool might feel like. And do Australian or South African Christmas Cards still have what we think of as ‘traditional’ pictures on them – carol singers on a frosty night, robins in the snow, Santa with his sleigh and reindeer? Perhaps someone could let me know!
Here in our little corner of Suffolk the traditional pattern of services for Advent and Christmas is now underway. By the time you read this we will have enjoyed our Benefice Advent Carol Service in Aldringham and will be heading towards Christingle. This year, as last, we will hold a single service for the whole of our benefice in Aldeburgh church (6.30pm Tuesday Dec 6th) and all – adults and children – are cordially invited. Christingle is an opportunity to celebrate the Christ-light together but also to remember the work of the Children’s Society, who try to bring light and hope into the lives of disadvantaged children, particularly in England and Wales. It is hugely important work and deserving of our wholehearted support. And if you have never seen the interior of Aldeburgh church gently glowing by the light of 100 or so Christingles then you have yet to experience something that, I promise you, is truly magical.
Details of all of our other Christmas services will be circulated on a special card and you would, of course, be most welcome at any of them. Each Parish Church will be holding its own Carol Service and this year the First Communion of Christmas – the service often known as ‘Midnight Mass’ – will be in Knodishall church at 11.30pm and Aldeburgh church at 11.15pm on Christmas Eve. I must confess that this is one of my favourite services of the year. It has an atmosphere all of its own – there really is nothing else quite like it. However many times we might have sung ‘O Come, all ye Faithful’ beforehand it never fails to produce a tingle down the spine when we sing ‘Yea Lord we greet thee, born this happy morning’ as Christmas Day is less than an hour old. And at the very end of the service we will read those words from John’s Gospel – ‘The light shines in the darkness’. The lights of the church will shine in the darkness of that most special of nights and we will be reminded that the light of Christ, which first shone in the world on that first Christmas night, shines still – and the darkness can still not overcome it. Not the darkness of death, the darkness of our troubled world or the darkness that we so often carry with us. Into all of these the Christ-light shines with a literally overwhelming power. And that’s what we all celebrate at Christmas, isn’t it?
With my love and prayers, as ever
November 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
One of the lovely things about a holiday is that there’s chance, while you take some ‘time out’, to ponder the big picture, to distance yourself from the minutiae and think a bit more broadly. I absolutely did not take any work away with me (promise!) but I still couldn’t help thinking about what has happened in the last year or so and how we might proceed as a united benefice.
There’s a word that we used to hear a lot in political commentaries (particularly about Europe) but seems to have disappeared recently – subsidiarity. A dictionary definition of ‘subsidiarity’ is ‘the principle that decisions should always be taken at the lowest possible level or closest to where they will have their effect’. It is used, for example, to define the work of Parish Councils, County or District Councils and central government. There is something related to this that I think we need to bear in mind as we move forward into a world that is new for us all in our four parishes – what is best left at an individual parish level and what is best shared? What, potentially, might be improved by sharing? And what falls into the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ category? These kind of questions are now very appropriate to be asking ourselves and I would, of course, like to hear your opinions. We’ll talk about them at the next round of PCC meetings but I’d be very happy to hear from individuals in advance.
My experiences during the last year of shared services have, for the most part, been very positive and in the next few weeks there are several occasions for us all to share worship. On Sunday November 6th we will have a special service of Holy Communion at 6pm in Aldeburgh Church at which we will mark the ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’, the festival often known as All Souls. There will be an opportunity to light a candle in memory of a departed loved one and some special music. Each parish will then hold its own Remembrance services the following week (13th) but that evening there will be a reflective Celtic-style service in Aldeburgh at 6pm that will also pick up the ‘remembrance’ theme. On Advent Sunday, November 27th, there will be our benefice Advent Carol Service at 6pm in Aldringham church and the following Wednesday (30th) everyone is also very welcome to celebrate with the congregation of St Andrew’s as they mark their Patronal Festival at 6pm, with a Fish and Chip Supper to follow. Finally (for the moment!) there will be a Christingle Service for the whole benefice in Aldeburgh church at 6pm on Tuesday December 6th. Be assured, however, that when Christmas Carol Services come around, each church will have its own special celebration and there will also be carols around the Christmas Tree in Thorpeness. Details of all of the Christmas services will be forthcoming very soon.
Another matter that has been very much on my mind recently is how I might best be available for people, especially in the villages, given that on Sundays I’m often a bit pushed for time. I live in Aldeburgh, so people there are able to see me easily. In the New Year I am going to try an experiment, just to see how it works. Each Friday I’ll have lunch in one of our village pubs – 1st Friday of the month at The Old Chequers in Friston, 2nd Friday at The Parrott and Punchbowl in Aldringham, 3rd Friday at The Butchers Arms in Knodishall and 4th Friday at The Dolphin in Thorpeness. Anyone who’d like to see me for a chat would be most welcome to do so, whether they are regular churchgoers or not. And aren’t we lucky to have four such splendid pubs in our villages. A monthly visit to each will definitely not be too much of a trial!
With my love and prayers, as ever
October 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
We live in ever-changing times. As I write, the hot topics in the world include the forthcoming elections for President of the United States of America, the current state of Her Majesty’s Opposition, how the United Kingdom is going to negotiate its exit from the European Union and even the resignation of the England football manager – again. Little seems permanent and reliable – and living in a world of transition can so often seem uncomfortable. We find ourselves thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be good if nothing changed for a while – or ever’! But, of course, that’s not how the world is or how our lives actually are. We have to be ready to change even if we would rather not, because of the changing world in which we live. And to ‘be prepared’ is, after all, a constant theme in the Bible.
The church, too, is not immune from change. In fact it shouldn’t be immune from change. In the Holy Communion service we say ‘We are the body of Christ’. If Christ were walking the earth today, would he behave and act in the same way as he did 2 000 years ago? His underlying message, his mission to turn the world Godwards would, of course, be exactly the same but his means of doing that would have to be very different. So should we be trying to speak to the world as it was or as it is? We need to carry out Christ’s work in the here and now. If we do not we will simply be ignored, become a complete irrelevance to people’s lives and there will, in the not too far distant future, be no church in Aldeburgh and the Whinlands. It is a sobering and sometimes rather frightening thought.
At this point you might be expecting an earth-shattering announcement. Have I been softening you up for killer blow? That is, however, not the idea. What I hope to encourage is the start of some serious thinking about whether anything needs to change and, if so, what and why. Change for its own sake is pointless and harmful. Change to enable us to be more effective disciples of Christ in the world as it actually is, rather than as we would ideally like it to to be, is vital. We need to think – and, of course, to pray – about what it is we are being called by God to be and to do. In the early part of next year I hope we might begin to discuss the future of what will by then (hopefully) be our benefice. There will be a joint meeting of our Parochial Church Councils and perhaps a weekend when we gather to think and pray together. Before we arrive at that point, though, we all need to ask ourselves a basic question – what do we want the church in this part of Suffolk to be? As we plan, I would encourage everyone to dream a little. If we are to be what we are called to be, what might this look like? What might your (and my) place in it be? Be bold, think big. Then let me know your thoughts and I will make sure that they are included in our discussions.
With my love and prayers, as ever
September 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
I find it hard to believe but I have now been Priest-in Charge of Aldeburgh and The Whinlands for a whole year. The time seems to have flown by and I have now taken part in some special services for the second time – notably the Aldringham Animal Service, the Carnival Songs of Praise and the Lifeboat Service. It seems like a good time to reflect on what I have learned and begin to move from a ‘learning’ phase into a ‘doing’ phase. As promised, there will be no revolutions but, hopefully, some building on what is already good as well as a new idea or two.
So what have we achieved together in a year? Firstly, and most importantly, we have done everything that we need to do to bring our new benefice into being. The Alde Sandlings Benefice will now happen, though from now on the precise timetable is out of our hands and we await the outcome of meetings beyond the Diocese. Ultimately, as Her Majesty the Queen is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, the name will need to be ratified by the Privy Council. I am assured that the chances of it being rejected are minimal!
I would propose that once we have been ‘made official’ we consider another Benefice Walk. The first, held in early May, was a great success, several people asked when we might do it again and a celebration of our official status would seem to be a good time. As well as the walk we have enjoyed a morning at the cinema, there have been (or are just about to be) Patronal Festival services in Knodishall and Friston as well as the more established celebrations in Aldeburgh and Aldringham. These are chances not just to celebrate the lives of our remarkable set of Patron Saints but also to celebrate the lives of the churches themselves and all that they have given to their respective communities over hundreds of years. There has also though, inevitably, been a lot of ‘steady as she goes’ about the last year as I have been listening and learning about Aldeburgh and Whinlands life. I have been encouraged, though, that attendances at most of our main services have been holding steady and that some of the aforementioned new ideas have proved to be of real interest.
So now we move on, and I have been thinking about some ‘New Year Resolutions’. Not everything has gone as I would have hoped and some of what has been wrong has been because I have not managed to balance things correctly. I would like to find more time to visit individuals. I would like to be able to be in the Whinlands villages a little more. I would like some more time for sharing stillness in one way or another. I have to accept, however, that I am not going to be able to do all that I would wish, just as you have to accept that I cannot be as ‘present’ as my predecessors were – because there is only one of me! I will continue to try my best and I would like to end with a renewed heartfelt thank-you to my clergy colleagues, our Churchwardens (past and present), PCC members, Elders and everyone who has helped to ‘ease me in’ to this fascinating and beautiful part of the world. It is a privilege to be here and I am reminded of that daily.
With my love and prayers, as ever
August 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
It was a little plaque on the wall and was being ignored by most of the visitors because of what else was on offer. We had just travelled to the highest railway station in Europe and had emerged onto the outdoor viewing platform at Jungfraujoch. The vista was, of course, absolutely stupendous. We were between two of the most majestic mountains in the Alps, the Jungfrau and the Mönch with a view extending over a glacier and down to the village of Kleine Scheidegg four-and-a-half thousand feet below. Cameras clicked, both for the breathtaking panorama and the inevitable ‘selfies’. But on the wall of the building, to which most people, understandably, had their backs was this.
In a place that was both a tourist magnet and a scientific research station the name of God was honoured – and I, for one, was profoundly moved. To then turn round and see something so magnificent but with the psalmist’s words still ringing in my head was a coincidence that I shall, I hope, never forget. Here endeth the holiday epistle.
Just before Ro and I headed off to Switzerland a number of us from all four of our parishes gathered to discuss music. We are blessed with some very talented musicians across the ‘benefice to be’ and we met to share some ideas and thoughts about how we might work a little more closely together. As many of you will know we sadly lost the services of Jon Gibbs as Aldeburgh’s Organist and Choirmaster at the end of June. I had planned to have a musical gathering that included him but it was not to be. I’d like to thank Jon for all that he has given to Aldeburgh Parish Church over the last few years. He is a brilliant musician and I know that his inspiring organ-playing will be very much missed. Even in the relatively short time that I have been here I have, several times, found myself walking down the nave at the end of a service with a huge smile on my face as I listened to Jon combining themes from the morning’s hymns with all sorts of other things from his enormous repertoire – and that is a skill not given to many, I promise you. We have sent him our thanks and a message to say that he and the family will always be welcome here. The music meeting came up with some intriguing ideas for enhancing the music of our churches and, though nothing too dramatic will happen straight away, be assured that plans are in hand for both regular worship and special events.
We said another sad farewell recently too – to Kate Drayton who has been running our Monday evening Youth Club for nearly four years. She leaves us for family reasons and with our enormous thanks for all that she has done to keep the Youth Club alive and well – with the dedicated support of several members of the congregation, most notably Fran Smith. The Youth Club is a vital part of our church life. We know that we have to reach out to the young of Aldeburgh and the Youth Club has been a very important part of our attempts to do so – we need to keep it running. So if you have any ideas as to its future and who might play a part in it (might it be you?!) please don’t hold back – we’d love to hear from you.
With my love and prayers, as ever
July 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
The world does seem a rather strange place at the moment, doesn’t it? I hesitate to mention anything currently in the news because things change so fast and anything I say is bound to be well out of date by the time you read it – and the pulpit, real or virtual, is not a place preach politics. But I feel the need to say something about where we currently find ourselves and to look at things from a Christian perspective.
Though there is nothing inherently xenophobic about the decision to leave the EU, the fact is that it has released some very unpleasant sentiments. This was in the East Anglian Daily Times today (July 1st) ‘The emphasis of immigration during the last weeks of the referendum campaign has led to an increase in the amount of abuse being aimed a European workers on the streets of Suffolk, councillors in Ipswich have heard.’ Local politicians have expressed their horror and so should we. We are also about to enter a period of unparalleled uncertainty as both of our largest political parties deal with leadership issues. There will be more than the usual amount of speculation, rumour, claim and counter-claim. What do we do?
Please could I ask everyone to read and re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan? (Luke 10: 25-37) Surely one of its messages is that place of birth and nationality are of little interest to God. What matters is how we act and how we care for one another. So how much of what is going on politically at the moment is about self-interest (individuals and nations) and how much is about care for our neighbour, whoever they may be? I am afraid that the answer to that question may be as uncomfortable to us as the parable of the Good Samaritan should be.
On a more cheerful note, having enjoyed some wonderful concerts in Aldeburgh church during the Aldeburgh Festival we have two more concerts worthy of special mention during July. On Saturday July 9th the flautist Duke Dobing will be returning for another Coffee Concert. His previous appearances have been very much enjoyed and the atmosphere is always informal, with Duke introducing the pieces he is going to play. Come to church any time after 10.30am for a cup of freshly-brewed coffee and at 11.00 Duke, and his pianist partner Caroline Finlay will play music by Bach, the gloriously romantic Undine Sonata by Carl Reinecke and Henri Dutilleux’s Sonatine (one of the great 20th-century pieces for flute and piano). Duke is also going to play two pieces by – I could say ‘our very own’ – Peter Dickinson, Aldeburgh resident and always-stimulating composer. All in all it promises to be a very entertaining hour or so.
On the evening of Tuesday July 12th, at 7.30pm we welcome two wonderful singers, tenor Mark Padmore and soprano Katherine Broderick, and two excellent chamber-groups, the Angell Trio and the Sacconi Quartet. The concert is the latest organised by the Michael Cuddigan Trust which, each year, commissions new music for voice and chamber ensemble. This year the new works are by Jonathan Dove, one of this country’s best and busiest composers of the moment, and Jordan Hunt, a real ‘rising star’ and with a fascinating range of influences from pop and folk music as well as the classical world. To complete the programme Katherine will sing music by Shostakovich for voice and piano trio and this promises to be a very special evening indeed. Tickets for both concerts are available through Aldeburgh Music or at the door.
With my love and my prayers, as ever
June 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
I have to confess that I have been looking forward to June for quite some time. I arrived here a month or so after the 2015 Aldeburgh Festival had ended and so this year will be my first as an Aldeburgh resident. We have a number of enticing concerts taking place in Aldeburgh Church and on June 19th we have the Festival Service at which Bishop Martin will preside and preach and at which the choir of King’s College, Cambridge will be singing. For anyone who loves music it promises to be a rather special time.
The Bible tells us that music has played a special part in religious ceremonial for thousands of years. The psalms (which themselves are songs) speak of instruments – trumpets, the harp and the lyre, the ram’s horn, bells and cymbals – and they would have been used to enhance worship and lift the spirits. And since those days every instrument imaginable has been called upon to praise God (in a church or in a concert hall) – from a solitary human voice to vast choirs and orchestras – just think, if you know it, of that extraordinary setting of ‘Veni creator spiritus’ (Come Holy Ghost, our souls inspire) that begins Mahler’s epic 8th Symphony.
In our own more modest way we elevate our worship with music in all of the churches of our benefice. Our organists are hugely important to us and deserve to be remembered more often than they probably are – so let’s hear it for Adrian, David, Jean, Jon and all who help them and deputise for them when necessary. I’ve also heard some wonderful choral singing, not least at our benefice Choral Evensong services and I really hope that we can build on the foundation that those occasions have given us. I know that all of the hard work that our musicians put in is very much appreciated. Because music can touch the parts ……
We spend a lot of time in our churches using words but there are times when words struggle to try to encapsulate what is at the heart of what we believe. The God ‘in whom we live, move and have our being’ is beyond the power of words to describe and sometimes music (and I don’t just mean what we normally call ‘religious’ music) can touch the soul and describe the infinite in a way that words cannot. Many of the great composers were not what we would call ‘conventionally religious’ and certainly not members of any particular church but they found that, as they composed, they were dealing with the big questions of existence. I could cite many examples but the piano sonatas and string quartets that Beethoven wrote towards the end of his life would be some of the more obvious works that fall into this category. And if you are able to be in Aldeburgh church when Thomas Zehetmair plays some of Bach’s solo violin music (Saturday June 11th) I think you may well experience something of what I mean. Or, to quote two people who used words rather more elegantly than I am able to do:
“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable” (Leonard Bernstein)
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent” (Victor Hugo)
With my love and my prayers, as ever
May 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
About 40 people (and four or five dogs) from all four parishes in our new benefice took part in our Prayer Walk. We walked for about 7.5 miles through the Suffolk countryside in glorious sunshine and temperatures up to 24 C.
The route included all four churches in the benefice, with a short service at each, and also much-appreciated refreshments.
We are very grateful to all those who made this walk possible by planning the walk, arranging refreshments and making sure we all got back safely.
It was a very happy occasion and a great opportunity for us all to get to know each other better.
Weary walkers arrive at Aldeburgh church, welcomed by the church bells (click for video).
Photos: Adrian Brown, Nick Winter
April 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
‘Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!’
The great cry has gone up in all of our churches – Easter is here. It is the season that defines who we are as Christians. We all live with the knowledge and in the light of the resurrection and it ought to affect our way of thinking about almost everything. We have nothing to fear, we have that ‘sure and certain hope’ that is referred to in the funeral service. Nothing we can do can separate us from God’s infinite love for us.
Way back in the 14th-century the great East Anglian Julian of Norwich had what we’d now call a ‘near-death experience’ and she felt that she was in the presence of Christ. She reported the experience like this:
‘ ….. Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’’
Easter is the time in the year when this extraordinary vision seems to make the most sense. Fortunately for us in the Northern Hemisphere Easter coincides with spring and we are surrounded by new life and signs of hope. I guess that in other parts of the world, where the hope of the resurrection sits alongside autumn, the message is that despite the signs we see around us we have confidence that, yes, ‘all will be well’ again next year and we live with that knowledge throughout the winter months. If you have experienced Easter in the Southern Hemisphere I would be grateful to hear your stories!
New life, new hope – new beginnings in our churches too. We have reached the season of Vestry Meetings and Annual Parochial Church Meetings. In each of our four parishes they have either happened or are about to happen – and they happen ‘back-to-back.’ In the former meeting we elect our churchwardens and in the latter we report on what has happened during the last year and look forward to some of what is to come. If you live in the parish you are entitled to vote at the Vestry Meeting but you have to be on the Electoral Role to vote at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting.
Two of our Vestry Meetings, in Aldringham and Aldeburgh, will have an important job to do as two of our most loyal servants are standing down. Jo Vallance and Dick Jeffery have devoted a huge amount to their respective churches over a long time – in Jo’s case more than 20 years – and even in the short time that I have been here I have benefited enormously from their generosity and wisdom and cannot thank them enough. Both will still be very much around – which is a great relief to me as I know I still have much to learn from them – but we will need new wardens for both churches, to work with Sue in Aldringham and Jill in Aldeburgh. Should you feel called to this very special ministry please do have a word with me.
There is also good news about our new benefice’s name. After a slight hiccup we are able to move forward. Frustratingly I cannot yet make an official announcement but be assured that the decision arrived at by our wardens just before Christmas will very soon be ratified by ‘those in authority’ and we will be able to get on with things. Please put Sunday May 8th in your diary and brush off your walking boots. We have a benefice to explore! More news very soon.
With my love and my prayers, as ever
March 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
How do we pray? How do you pray? If you are anything like me the answer to that question is far from straightforward. Sometimes prayer comes easily, sometimes it can feel like very hard work indeed. Sometimes using ‘formal’ prayers such as those that occur in the services of the Book of Common Prayer help us, sometimes they can seem to miss the point of what we want – or need – to pray about at a particular moment.
Our life as a worshipping community offers us a variety of different opportunities for corporate prayer, from main services to home groups. And then there are our individual prayers at home which, I’m prepared to bet, take widely different patterns. Some may use the formal prayers of the church such as the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, some may use less formal but still formalised prayers such as those from the Iona community or the prayer-books written by the late Jim Cotter (very much to be recommended). And sometimes it feels quite sufficient just to sit in a comfortable chair and be still, perhaps using a very simple repetitive prayer, perhaps just giving God room to be. We are all, thank God, wonderfully different and what suits one may not suit another, though it is good to know of the variety of possible ways to pray – there may be something that would suit you perfectly that you haven’t tried yet.
I have just spent a day with the children of Coldfair Green school. I visited each class (for half-an-hour with the youngest ones, a little longer with those in years 5 and 6) and my brief was to talk to them about prayer. At the end of each of 5 sessions I asked the children either to work in pairs to come up with a short prayer or (with the older children) to write a prayer – and the results were very beautiful indeed. A couple of the children in Year 5 composed prayers that I would be happy to use in a main service but almost all of them had engaged with the idea of prayer being to thank God for something, ask God for something or say sorry to God for something. Not a single child asked God for a new toy or other ‘stuff’, many thanked God for the love of their families and friends, some even said sorry to God for the mess we are making of the planet. Never let it be said that children are not engaging with matters of faith at school – our Coldfair Green children proved just how aware they are of some of the big questions. It was a heart-warming day!
Our Lent groups are also engaging with prayer, specifically with what Bishop Stephen Cottrell calls ‘the prayer book of the Bible’, the Psalms. The York Course material has been proving stimulating and the sessions that I have attended have certainly been filled with wisdom as the participants find, as generations have found before them, just how rich the Psalms are. They challenge us still and, as Bishop Stephen says ‘if you are feeling fed up there is always a psalm more fed up than you. … if you feel joyful there is always a psalm more joyful than you.’
When these groups come to an end at Easter it would be good to reflect on what we have learned, not just about the psalms but also about the value of small-group study. There is one existing (and thriving) group which mostly meets in and around Aldringham but there may well be more that we can do, so if you would like the opportunity to meet regularly in more intimate surroundings than our church buildings offer then please do let me know.
With my prayers for a continuing reflective Lent, a holy Passiontide and the most joyous of Easters
February 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
Lent approaches. It begins very early this year because Easter is so early and, as I write, we will soon be eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and then remembering ‘that we are dust and to dust we will return’ on Ash Wednesday. The world will be talking about what to give up for Lent – it seems that we need to know that we still have a bit of control over what we consume. I must confess that I have never been very good at giving things up and have tried to mark Lent by doing something more constructive.
In Lent we are encouraged to study – to open our minds to new influences. The words of the Lenten Eucharistic Prayer remind us that through study of the holy word our eyes are opened to God’s presence in the world. This year there is to be a deanery-wide Lent course based on a study of the Psalms and there will be a weekly meeting somewhere near you. The sessions will be using material from one of the very popular York Courses and will feature contributions from several leading theologians including Bishop Stephen Cottrell, Paula Gooder, Fr Timothy Ratcliffe and John Bell. Watch and listen for further announcements.
Scripture isn’t, though, the only way of discovering God. We can find God everywhere if we learn how to look – if we study God’s way. ‘If you don’t find God in the very next person you meet than it’s a waste of time looking further’ said Gandhi. But we need to learn how to do that – and that sort of study isn’t just a question of finding straightforward answers to straightforward questions. To be able to open ourselves to what God is calling us to do and to be, we need to be able to live the questions themselves.
The Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke put it beautifully – and this is a wonderful definition of lifelong study:
‘I want to beg you …. to be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, that cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.’
At the time I was exploring the idea of ordained ministry I met with a Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of Oxford, where we then lived, and as I was saying goodbye to him he was looking thoughtful. He then said something that I found hugely encouraging. ‘You know, I think I’m much more interested in the questions than I am in the answers.’ I have to say that I completely agree with him!
At the beginning of March we have a very different kind of opportunity to explore some questions. We have booked the Aldeburgh Cinema at 10.00am on the morning of Tuesday March 1st and the film that will be shown is ‘The Truman Show’, directed in 1998 by Peter Weir and starring Jim Carrey. Truman Burbank is a happy smiling insurance salesman living in a happy smiling American community but there is one very important thing that he is unaware of. He is, in fact, living in a reality television programme. His home town of Seahaven is a film-set, everyone he knows is an actor and his life is controlled by the programme’s director Christof. Gradually Truman begins to discover things about his life that lead him to question this ‘reality’. Then, one day ….. Do join us for the film, the chance to ask our own questions and a Leek and Potato Soup lunch afterwards. It is, of course, St David’s Day! For tickets please contact Aldeburgh churchwarden Jill Brown on 453427 or jill.brown AT btinternet.com (replace the “AT” with a “@”, and remove spaces).
With my prayers for a thoughtful Lent
January 2016 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
A new year is bound to be full of all sorts of excitements of one kind or another. There are some things that I can predict with confidence, some I’m not so sure about and plenty of complete unknowns – but that is how new years usually begin, isn’t it? The old year ended with some wonderful experiences for me. My first Christmas in Aldeburgh and The Whinlands included memorable services that were well attended by congregations ranging in age from a few months to almost 100 years and some glorious music and music-making. Lots that was good and lots that we can build on. And that, I pray, will be one of the themes of 2016. We will begin building a new benefice with a new name (sorry if I can’t yet reveal it – I’m waiting for approval from ‘on high’) and begin to realise the opportunities that being together offers us.
‘Growing in God’ is a diocesan initiative that, so far, we have yet to engage with seriously but as we grow together I hope we will be able to use it to help us – because that is what it is designed to do. I had a good meeting last month with the Diocesan Director of Mission, The Revd Dave Gardner, and know that he is available and willing to support us as we explore what it is that God is calling us to do across our four parishes. We will need to be prepared to change some things as well as preserving the best of what we already do – and there’s plenty of good stuff happening that only needs to carry on and be encouraged.
A key time for us will be in the late spring when, hopefully, we will be close to having the new benefice fully formed. Plans are already beginning to come together for some celebrations beginning at the end of April when we mark Rogationtide, with its blessing of new seeds, followed a few weeks later by Pentecost, traditionally thought of as the church’s birthday. There is talk of a walk, ‘beating the bounds’ of our new benefice, and a special Pentecost benefice service. There is a good deal of planning still to be done but this promises to be a special time for us all.
I’d like, gently, to suggest another idea. Back in August I was enormously impressed by my first experience of the Aldeburgh Carnival. I watched the long procession set off from by the Moot Hall and saw it return from a wonderful vantage-point – the 1st floor window of the Regatta Restaurant (thanks Jo and Rob!). The floats were full of colour and life and so many local firms and organisations were represented. I wonder if, in 2016, the churches ought to be among them! Ought we to have a benefice float? I would appreciate your thoughts and observations.
By the end of 2016 things will probably feel rather different for many of us. My prayer is, though, that it will be a year of building, a year of growth and a year when we all begin to understand a little more clearly what it means to be church on the Suffolk coast in 2016. May it be a happy and a healthy new year for us all.
With my prayers, as ever
December 2015 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
Light Looked Down by Laurence Housman
Light looked down and beheld Darkness.
“Thither will I go,” said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld War.
“Thither will I go,” said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld Hatred.
“Thither will I go,” said Love.
So came Light and shone.
So came Peace and gave rest.
So came Love and brought life.
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
WITH OUR VERY BEST WISHES FOR A HAPPY CHRISTMAS
AND FOR 2016
Mark & Rosemary
For many years now we’ve sent money that we would otherwise spend on cards and stamps to a charity whose work we very much admire – Practical Action (formerly known as Intermediate Technology) http://practicalaction.org
November 2015 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther
I don’t know about you but for me recent events in the wider world have left me feeling a bit useless. Faced with the events in Paris and elsewhere I have found myself returning to some big fundamental questions – about God, about evil and about our apparent lack of control over important things in our lives. A recent trip abroad for a couple of days reminded me of how much trust we place in those who look after us when we take an apparently routine flight from a major airport. Hundreds of thousands of people every day still travel safely as a result (at any one time there are, somewhere in the world, about 500 000 people in the air in a plane) but we now know all too clearly what happens when that trust is betrayed. It is at such times that the questions rush into our heads and that is very natural.
The Archbishop of Canterbury was typically honest when he said recently that he was kicking himself for the way that he answered a question about whether things like the Paris tragedies ever made him doubt. He wrote this on his blog:
‘Foolishly, I said exactly what I thought, in a fairly lengthy discussion which particularly referred to Psalm 44. The essence of my answer was that everyone has moments when they question things, and one sees that in the Psalms. The psalmist in Psalm 44 asks God if he is asleep, and challenges him in the most direct terms about his failure to deliver Israel. It is a psalm of protest. When there are tragedies like Paris, when friends suffer, when evil seems to cover the face of the Earth, then we should be like the psalmist.
But that is not the same as a settled belief that God does not exist, or even any serious questioning about his reality. It’s a moment of protest and arguing. It’s very much part of my normal prayer life, together with praise and wonder, with delight and awe, with petition and lament, with celebration and rejoicing. So, for the record, I do believe in God, and that Jesus Christ is God himself, and I can say every word of the Creed without ever crossing my fingers once. And why was I kicking myself? Because, even as I said it, I realised that it would be too tempting for an editor or headline writer to take things out of context, a long context of a whole discussion, and to make a good headline. I really need to remember that.’
Doubt has sat at the side of faith for as long as people have had a faith but the other nagging question in our minds when we encounter events like those in recent weeks is ‘what do we do about it?’ Are we utterly powerless in the face of this threat? The answer is that we do what all of those of faith are asked to do all of the time – we pray. Just pray. (www.justpray.uk) As Bishop Stephen Cottrell reminds us on that website:
The hardest thing about prayer is beginning.
So just start.
Wanting to pray is the beginning of a relationship with God that can grow and grow.
Find the way of praying that is right for you.
Explore different ways of praying.
Listen as well as speak.
Give thanks as well as ask for help.
Don’t just look for results. Don’t give up when it gets hard. Trying to pray is praying.
Remember, God is present even in the darkness.
Advent is a good time to reflect and, speaking personally, I’m going to try and spend a little more time in quiet prayer as part of my Advent preparations. Please would you join me? We don’t have to pray in the same place or at the same time but we will know that we are all part of a praying community that has set some time aside for reflection (listening as well as speaking – as Bishop Stephen says) and holding others in our hearts and minds. Let’s do it.
With my love and (especially this month) my prayers