From the Vicarage

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March 2020 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

I am writing this immediately after returning from the very first meeting of our 2020 Lent Course and, if you’ll pardon the expression, I’m ‘full of it’. Ruth Valerio’s book Saying Yes to Life is, I think, going to prove to be both a fulfilling read and a great stimulus to conversation. For those of you who have not yet seen it, Ruth (who describes herself as a community activist, Christian, academic, eco-warrior, mum, author, veg grower, wife and pig keeper rolled into one) takes as the basis of her book the story of creation from the bible’s book of Genesis and relates its themes of light, water, land, the seasons, other creatures, humankind and sabbath rest to our current concerns about the environment, ethical and social concern. 

Each of the book’s six chapters has all sorts of support material available online including video interviews that Ruth has conducted with experts in the particular area that it explores. This evening we watched the fascinating, disturbing but ultimately hopeful conversation that she had with Christiana Figueres who, for six years, was Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Her testimony was disturbing because it spelled out, carefully and without being sensational, the damage that humankind has already done to Planet Earth and the consequences of not making some drastic changes. But Christiana was ultimately hopeful because, as she puts it ‘humanity has not yet dug into the fulness of its resources … we have a huge potential that has not been unleashed yet.’ And as our discussion continued we remembered how little we used to recycle, how we all used to take quantities of unrecyclable carrier-bags away from a supermarket, how much fuel cars used to consume by comparison with nowadays etc. We have already made a difference but, of course, we can – we must – do a great deal more. We need to dig into the internal resources that God has given each of us to make the all-too-necessary changes that will, literally, save our world. 

I do commend our Lent Study Groups to you. They are held on:

Thursday evenings, 7pm, Onemana, Alde House Drive, Aldeburgh

Monday afternoons, 2pm, Aldringham Church Vestry (after the 12.30 Lent Lunches)

Wednesday afternoons, 3pm, Aldeburgh Church Vestry.

There’s no formal sign-up – just come along. And if you miss a session at one venue you are more than welcome to attend another. Even if you don’t plan to come I thoroughly recommend Ruth Valerio’s book. I can already see why it is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book for this year. It addresses the biggest question of our current age with considerable insight and a huge amount of wisdom. 

On a wholly different subject I wanted to let you know why, for the next month or two, we will not be seeing as much of The Revd Jo as we are used to. As many of you will already know Jo and her husband Rob have just retired from running their wonderful Aldeburgh restaurant, Regatta. The restaurant will continue under new management and will, hopefully, reopen in time for Easter but Jo and Rob need to get on with the next phase of their plans – converting their current flat over the restaurant into holiday accommodation and finishing, and moving into, their new house just behind. There is a lot of building work to initiate and supervise and lots of plans to be made so Jo is taking a step back from public ministry for a short while. She will be back soon, once things have settled down. In the meantime please do hold Jo, Rob and their family in your prayers.

Whatever you have given up, or promised to do, may I wish you a fulfilling Lent. 

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

February 2020 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

This is going to be a rather unusual letter because I feel I owe you an explanation.  I have done something that I very rarely do and I need to tell you why.   I have signed an open letter addressed to the House of Bishops, critical of something that they have published, and in order to explain myself I need to tell you a little modern church history.

In 2017 our Archbishops set up a project in the aftermath of a debate at General Synod that had rejected a report calling for continued opposition to same-sex marriage. To grapple with the difficult issues that were involved a working party was convened and the project, called ‘Living in Love and Faith’, spent 18 months studying.  To quote from the official C of E documentation ‘Four working groups, covering biblical studies, theology, history and social and biological sciences, studied academic papers. A co-ordinating group oversees and draws together the work of the groups and engages with other churches and faith communities.’  This is big, serious stuff and the aim is to produce what the working party has called ‘a set of resources rather than a document’ which aims to ‘help the church learn how to think and understand better’.  The timeline is that General Synod will be updated on the project when it meets this month, before the House of Bishops approves the final document in March.  So this has been, in total, almost three years of work and has involved a huge amount of consultation with interested parties spanning a wide range of opinions. 

Earlier this month, quite out of the blue, the House of Bishops produced a document headed ‘Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples.  A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England.’  In it the House of Bishops restates the church’s current teaching on marriage:

…  the Church of England teaches that “sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively” (Marriage: a teaching document of the House of Bishops, 1999). Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.     

and concludes its report:

With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage – that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity. In its approach to civil partnerships the Church seeks to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships and to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently.

So, to put it bluntly, the church is telling those in civil partnerships, gay or straight, that they really ought to be celibate.  And also:

… the House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership. 

Again, bluntly, I am allowed to give God’s blessing to a railway engine or a lifeboat but I am not allowed to give God’s blessing to a partnership between two loving people.  I am afraid that I find that to be absurd.  I have, on previous occasions, quoted the words often sung in church on Maundy Thursday – ‘Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est’ – ‘Where truth and love are, God is present’.  If two people are in love God, who is love, is present with them and as church I think we should recognise that.

I fail to understand why this so-called ‘Pastoral Letter’ (there are many for whom this feels the opposite of pastoral) was published in advance of the findings of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ report.  Why spend years consulting if the fundamental conclusion is foregone? This is why the open letter was begun and, to date, it has been signed by more than 3 500 people, including a serving Bishop, 8 retired Bishops, 11 serving Deans, 2 retired Deans and 88 members of General Synod.  I have signed the letter in a personal capacity.  I do not mention the Benefice where I serve because I know that not everyone will agree with my stance.  There are, however, times when we need to stand up and be counted and I feel that this is one of them for me.

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

January 2020 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

Happy New Year!  Golly.  2020.  The last year of the second decade of the 21st century.  Is it only me who finds it hard to believe that time flies by so quickly?  I suspect not.  Time plays tricks with us.  Sometimes a minute can seem interminable, sometimes a year can feel as if it has disappeared so very quickly.  Clock time seems only to be part of the story.  Next month there will be the opportunity to spend time with time (as it were) when there will be a number of events in and around Aldeburgh exploring the theme of ‘Time and Timelessness’  and including a special service in Aldeburgh church on Sunday February 23rd.  A date for the diary, I think.

Looking forward to a new year many people make New Year Resolutions and perhaps we should as church too.  What do we need to do in 2020?  What is it time to do?  One thing (or rather three things) that it will be good to see moving forward are our ‘construction’ projects.  Though there have  been no outward signs as yet plans are advancing for changes at Aldeburgh, Aldringham and Friston churches.  The project to install glass doors at the west end of Aldeburgh church will be moving forward at last.  The construction of a toilet in Knodishall churchyard should be a bit nearer reality this year and some exciting plans to improve facilities at Aldringham church will, no doubt, have taken important steps forward too.  Each of these projects is motivated by a sense of service.  How can we improve what we already have in order to serve our communities better?  When God came to earth in human form he came ‘not to be served but to serve’ and service (and not just Services!) should be at the heart of any Christian life.  

During the run-up to the recent General Election we held a hustings in Aldeburgh church and I was struck by how, first of all, the church building was able to serve the community in a really positive way.  I suspect that people, both candidates and audience, were better behaved than they might otherwise have been because of where they were.  It was also good to hear different views from each candidate as to how they felt they could best serve our constituency as its Member of Parliament.  We may not have come away with lots of answers but it was not difficult to sense the different directions of travel.  

Now we have a new government and it is time for the promises made in the election campaign to be put into practice.  Our job is far from over.  If we wish to continue to serve our communities then it is our duty to hold our government to account and to speak out if necessary.  We have as our exemplar someone who was never afraid to speak out.  Jesus was prepared to call the king a fox when he misbehaved.  Jesus condemned those who he felt to be hypocrites, saying one thing and doing another.  As his followers we should be prepared to be brave too.  

So will 2020 seem to fly by or to drag its heels?  After 366 more days (yes, it’s a leap year) will the world, our nation, our towns and villages be better places?  Can we play a part, however small, in making them so?  The answer to that question comes in words used at services such as baptism and ordination.  When the candidates are asked if they will be faithful to their calling they reply ‘with the help of God, I will’.  So, will we do whatever we can to build the kingdom of God in the four parishes if our benefice?  ‘With the help of God, we will.’     

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

December 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

I have begun to lose count of the number of times that I have written a letter such as this with no knowledge of how the world is going to feel by the time you read it – or very soon afterwards.  We are in the throes of a General Election so, less than a fortnight into next month, there will be a new government.  Whatever the result of the election there are bound to be changes.  And the final run-up to the General Election will be in Advent, the season of watching and waiting.  We watch and we wait, but for what?  Well surely that is obvious – we are waiting for Christmas, aren’t we?  That is why we are all so busy, shopping, decorating, planning services … we are waiting for Christmas.  I wonder.  Preparing and waiting are very different things.  Does Advent really call us to run around like mad things, hoping against hope that we can ‘get it all done in time?’

The Collect for Advent Sunday includes these words: ‘… give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light’.  What might that mean for us, here and now?  We symbolically ‘turn to the light’ in many different ways.  We will be enjoying the beauty of a candlelit church in Aldringham on Advent Sunday evening.  The light of hosts of Christingles will fill Aldeburgh church at 6.30pm on Tuesday December 3rd – and we will be reminding children (and adults too) that the candle in the Christingle orange represents the light of Christ.  We will be ‘following the star’ to Bethlehem with stars on church towers and in church windows.  Lights will be switched on all over Aldeburgh at 4.30pm on Saturday December 7th.  All of these lights are signs of hope, gleaming, optimistic. 

The job of the Christian is to take the light of Christ out into the world and let it shine in the dark corners where it is needed.  So, to return to the obsession of the moment, how might we do that when we approach the election?  However we feel about the current state of politics the fact that we have a vote is a privilege and one that we ought not to abuse.  We have been given a precious gift, and some of our forebears suffered in order to allow it to be given to us.  A vote should never be wasted.  We need to discover for ourselves what the promises being made to us mean, not just for us but for those less fortunate than us.  We need to try our best to see through the fog of party politics and cheap promises to see where the light might be. 

For the election we need to prepare – to do some homework.  For Christmas we just need to wait – it will come.  We have little idea about what the aftermath of the election might bring.  What we know for certain is that, sometime around midnight on Christmas Eve, churches throughout the land and beyond will resound as we greet the Christ-child – ‘Yea Lord we greet thee, born this happy morning.’  Hope will be born again.  The light of Christ which we will have seen symbolically illuminated in our town, our villages and our churches can shine in our hearts and our lives as long as we refuse to close the door and shut it out.

There is a beautiful Christmas hymn by John Bell and Graham Maule from the Iona community whose last verse ends:

While the human lot we ponder,

lest our hopes and humour fray,

God surprises earth with heaven,

coming here on Christmas Day.

May the joy and wonder of God’s great surprise be yours this Christmas – and always.

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

November 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

Have you ever had that experience when two or three things happen, quite close together, and you wonder ‘is someone trying to tell me something?’  It has happened to me recently and I would like to share it with you. 

At the last meeting of our Deanery Synod one of the people who spoke was Canon Sandie Barton, our Diocesan Environment Officer.  She told synod about a national initiative called ‘Eco Church’ which asks parishes to carry out a simple environmental audit and encourages them to move towards specific goals of three ‘grades’ of environmental engagement, bronze, silver and gold.  All very laudable and interesting.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I attended a lecture at Aldeburgh Library given by Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson, Emeritus Professor of Astro-Physics at Imperial College, London.  His subject was ‘climate change’ and the lecture was both fascinating and alarming.  There really is no bigger issue facing us all at present and, unless some drastic action is taken, low-lying East Anglia will change enormously, and the lives of our grandchildren will be drastically affected.

The final piece of the coincidence was when Christine and Alan Collett made contact and asked to come and talk to me.  You may well have come across Christine and Alan as the brains behind ‘Aldeburgh’s Amazing Swifts’ – a project very close to their hearts and to which they have devoted a huge amount of time and energy.  As this year’s swifts have now headed for Africa they have begun to think about a new idea.  They have noticed that several local towns and villages, including Woodbridge and Snape, have been involved in green initiatives of one kind or another and have begun a community initiative in Aldeburgh – ‘Green and Clean’ – to promote environmental sensitivity in the town.  You will doubtless come across newspaper articles and publicity about ‘G&C’ in the near future.  

Exploring the online information about ‘Eco Church’ I played with the site’s questionnaire which tests how ‘green’ a parish already is.  Each of our parishes ticks a good number of the relevant boxes already and is not far short of being able to gain ‘bronze’ status as an eco-church.  We are being encouraged by Bishop Martin who, when he presented Canon Sandie with the Eco Church Bronze Certification for her parish in Freckenham, said this:

“Making a difference is what we exist for, our care for creation is so very important, and one very good example where Suffolk Christians are doing this.  Many of our churches are already working hard to care for the environment, and I want to encourage every congregation, whether small or large, to follow the example of Freckenham and help us become a greener Church for the sake of our county, and our world.”

I would encourage all four parishes in our benefice to engage with this initiative.  If you are able to, have a look at the ‘Eco Church’ website and prepare to be inspired! 

Going back to another part of my recent green-tinged coincidence, Michael Rowan-Robinson’s lecture was very clear in its message.  He reminded us of a statement made, back in 2001, by 11 International Science Academies.  They said:

“Climate change is real. There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However, there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring. …. It is likely that most of the warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities.”

We all take decisions in our lives that have an impact on our environment.  Individually they may be miniscule in global terms, but millions of miniscule changes could make a significant change to the future of our planet.  To quote from the ‘Green and Clean’ publicity leaflet: ‘What used to be ‘normal’ may no longer be acceptable; change is the new ‘normal’. 

We are stewards of God’s great gift to us, the earth.  God calls us to care for it.  How might we – you and I – play our part?  Let the discussions – and then the action – begin!

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark


October 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd James Marston

Dear Friends,

I can hardly believe it, but I’ve been ordained three months already.  It seems that one moment I was wondering where I’d be living, the next the summers over and the autumn is in full swing.  With Mark and Ro away celebrating a milestone wedding anniversary, the time has come for me to put finger to keyboard for my very first letter from the vicarage.

It has been three months of firsts – the first time I acted as liturgical deacon, the first PCC meetings, the first introductions to the people of the benefice, the first sermon, the first leading of Morning Prayer.   And September has been no different.   This month I’ve enjoyed my first Harvest Festival – Knodishall – and very first Messy Church at Aldeburgh.  And what a brilliant success the Harvest Messy Church was, and tribute must be paid to all the organisers and helpers for their hard work and dedication to make it, for me and I’m sure, those who were there, a real highlight of September.

Indeed, I admitted to a friend that Messy Church was, for me, unexpectedly emotional and I confessed to having a tear in my eye at the moment the children quietened down and listened entranced to the bible story.  I couldn’t help thinking of myself at that age and reflecting that even now, at 44 I can still remember being taught about Jesus as a youngster and, how in recent years in particular, the memory of that teaching has popped up in my own mind again and again.   We may never see the fruits, but we can trust God we are planting the seeds of faith.

Messy Church is a powerful reminder of the fun and laughter that ministry brings and an event that reminds all Christians of our role in teaching the next generation our beliefs and values. It is a reminder that building up the Kingdom together can be great fun and a source of deep joy.   And, I’m a firm believer that church should be fun and joyful.  Indeed, in the coming months, I can for see already, from the energy I sense across the benefice, that we have plenty of other opportunities to work together and enjoy the teamwork and fellowship that goes into building up the Kingdom of God.

That strong teamwork pays off should come as no surprise.  I’ve been struck, wherever I’ve been in the Alde Sandlings Benefice at the effective and good humoured teamwork I have encountered.  Every church community has its movers and shakers, its spokesmen and women, its characters and personalities, its quiet unnoticed and behind-the-scenes-workers, and each church community has taught me that Christianity is in the business of working together.   To see that teamwork in action, on the ground and in the community is hugely inspiring and something to be commended.  

It is working together for the community that marks us out as the people of God – perhaps even more than just being among those who go to church on a Sunday.

The bible, of course, is not silent on the theme of working together.  St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians makes it clear “For the body is not one member, but many.”  The body he is talking about is the Body of Christ which is made up of us all, for all our foibles and failings, abilities and skills.

As a curate I am here primarily to learn, as a deacon I am here to serve and be available to you as best I can.  And as team players we can live our faith together as we strive to aspire to be more like God, in order that we inspire others to seek the truth and love and faith in which we find such joy.

With affection and prayers,

James

September 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

As ever, August has been quite a month on our patch.  We have had all sorts of special events and services and, generally speaking, they have been terrific successes.  I would just point to the increased numbers of worshippers at the Thorpeness Summer Services, the wonderful turnouts (and profits!) at the Aldeburgh Friday Markets, the memorable Patronal Festival services in Knodishall and Friston and a terrific open day in Aldringham with lots of visitors, particularly attracted by the wedding theme and the glorious decoration of the church.  Renewed, and enormous, thanks to everyone who worked so had to make all of these events (and more besides) come together so well.

It was as we concluded the Aldringham Open Day that I had a bit of an inspiration.  There we were, 40 or so worshippers, some regular churchgoers, others not, sitting round outdoors, in a big circle, using an order of service provided by our benefice’s ‘Pilgrims Together’ group and singing one of the very best of modern hymns / worship songs.  It’s by an American Lutheran, Marty Haugen, and it’s called ‘All are welcome’ and I find the words to be both prophetic and very moving.  The first verse goes:

Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions.
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

As I sang, I realised that the whole hymn was a perfect summing-up of what I believe we are called to be as the church.  Modern worship-songs have a bad reputation in more traditional parts of the church but Haugen’s hymn is as good a piece of theology as I have come across.  It is absolutley not trite, it is full of symbolism, even including includes a verse that is very much inspired by the Eucharist – Holy Communion.

Let us build a house where love is found in water, wine and wheat:
a banquet hall on holy ground where peace and justice meet.
Here the love of God, through Jesus, is revealed in time and space;
as we share in Christ the feast that frees us.
All are welcome, all are welcome,
all are welcome in this place.

The final verse is a glorious summing-up of what the church is (or ought to be) about.

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter.
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

So here is a challenge – and it is one that I would like us all to think about in the months to come.  Might Marty Haugen’s words become more to us than something we occasionally sing?  Might they become a real inspiration to us as we plan for the future?  Might the hymn become a kind of theme song for us?  And (the million dollar question) are all welcome in our places – and I don’t just mean the church buildings?  If not, why not?  What might we do to ‘build a house’ in the way that Haugen describes?  Each of the hymn’s five verses paint a different but related picture of a Christian community living its faith and being what we are called to be.

I will try and make copies of the hymn-words available in all of our churches (if you are in Aldringham you already have it – Hymn 409 in ‘Singing the Faith’) and let’s let its imagery, ideas and inspiration work on us all.  As ever, your thoughts and reactions would be very welcome.     

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

August 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

‘The Daily Office’ is the formal name for something that forms the backbone of the church’s worshipping life.  Every day, somewhere in the benefice, Morning and Evening Prayer are said, with psalms, bible readings and prayers.  Morning Prayer is said each day from Monday to Saturday in Aldeburgh church at 9am, Evening Prayer usually happens more privately as the clergy (and others too, I’m sure) say the service at home.  Then on Sundays  Morning Prayer is one of the regular pattern of services in each church and pretty well every week you will find it happening in one of our churches. Sunday Morning Prayer (sometimes known as Mattins) is usually taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and is often sung, with hymns, a psalm and canticles.  At this time of year Sunday Evening Prayer happens each month in Aldringham church and it is sung – the service more usually known as Evensong – once again with hymns, a psalm and canticles.  Summer evensongs have become a staple of Aldringham church life and are usually well attended by folk from around the benefice.  Guest singers are always welcome, as long as you can make a choir practice or two beforehand.  Occasionally a visiting choir comes to the benefice to sing Evensong and that will be the case on Friday August 9thwhen the Royal School of Church Music Summer School choir visits Aldeburgh at 6pm.  All are welcome to attend – it should be a memorable occasion. And advance notice of another special Evensong in Aldeburgh on Sunday September 15thwhen we welcome the choir from the church of St Francis, Welwyn Garden City.  This choir has regularly sung in cathedrals and is of a very high standard.  The service will be at 4pm.

Prayer has been called ‘the heartbeat of the church’ and can, of course, be private as well as public.  There is, though, something special about praying together with others and the Daily Office offers a chance to do just that.  In our benefice there are other regular gatherings that involve prayer and which are open to anyone.  Each Wednesday evening at 6pm in Friston church Compline is said. Compline is a short (c15’) evening service that has its roots in the monastic tradition where it usually is said as the last service of the day.  It is beautifully simple, an opportunity to reflect towards the day’s end. 

Aldeburgh has a fortnightly service of prayer in the Fairfield Centre.  It happens on Tuesday mornings at 10.15 and usually lasts about half-an-hour.  This month it will happen on the 13thand 27th.  Finally our benefice ‘Pilgrims Together’ group meets fortnightly on Wednesday evenings – at 6.30pm.  Half-an-hour or so of gentle worship in the Iona tradition followed by some food and drink and an opportunity to learn some new hymns and songs afterwards. ‘Pilgims’ is taking a summer break and will be back in September – look out for details of when and where – all will be welcome in this, and all of these, places. 

Two very contrasting events take place over the weekend of August 17th/ 18th.   This is Aldeburgh’s Carnival weekend and on the evening of Sunday 18thwe will be holding the usual Carnival Songs of Praise by the Moot Hall at 6pm.  There will be music and stories, with, as ever, accompaniment from the Ipswich Salvation Army Band.  The day before, though, the mood is a little more solemn as V-J (Victory Over Japan) Day is remembered at the Long Shop Museum in Leiston.  74 years ago the conflict between the allied forces and Japan came to a formal end and ever since commemorations have taken place to remember and to give thanks.  This year’s gathering begins at 10.30am with a short Act of Remembrance at 11.00.  We will remember them.

And, if you are a summer visitor to one of our churches who has just picked up this letter to find out what we are up to – welcome! We hope you enjoy the beautiful Suffolk coast and you would be most welcome at any of our services.  Rest and relax.

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

July 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

All over the country there are churches saying to themselves ‘well, that’s the busy time over – all we have now is 19 ‘Sundays after Trinity’ and then it’ll be November.  Things aren’t quite like that here.  We may be in ‘Ordinary Time’ according to the church calendar but, as you all know, summers by the Suffolk sea are far from ordinary.  Just imagine what James, our new Curate, has to look forward to over the next few weeks!

On Saturday July 6th the indefatigable Jill Hubbard is putting on a Variety Show in Knodishall Village Hall at 7pm. It will be in the style of an Old Time Music Hall as it might have been in 1918, with songs and sketches appropriate for the time.  It promises to be huge fun and I’m just hoping that I manage to play the right songs in the right order.  If you’d like to find out if I succeed do come along!  £8 (£4 for children) buys you the entertainment, and a light supper. Contact Pat on 01728 832653

Thursday July 11th is Friston’s annual ‘Classics on the Green’.  Classic cars and motorbikes from all over the country gather on the village green to be admired and talked over.  The turnout seems to get bigger each year and there are usually some spectacular visitors beautifully restored.  Even I, who know nothing at all about cars, seem to end up by spending more time there than I intended and thoroughly enjoying myself.  Don’t miss it! 

On one day in July Aldringham will be holding its annual Raking Day.  As I write it has just had to be changed because of a funeral so listen out for further details.  When it happens it will be all hands to the tools to tidy the churchyard, cut the grass and generally make things look beautiful (they always do!).  Anyone is welcome to lend a hand, lunch is provided and, from experience, I can tell you that a good time is had by all.  Report to the church around 9.30am (or any time afterwards) and someone will find you a job.

Sunday July 14th is Sea Sunday and we’ll be marking it by holding our monthly evening ecumenical service, with our Baptist and Roman Catholic friends, down on the beach in Aldeburgh. We meet by Dean Fryer’s fisherman’s hut, just across the road from the White Lion hotel, at 6pm.  It will be good to give thanks for all that ‘those who go down to the sea in ships’ do for us and also for the work of ‘The Mission to Seafarers’ who do a great deal to care for them.

Sunday July 21st sees the regular summer visit of the Salvation Army band from Ipswich to The Meare at Thorpeness for a ‘Songs of Praise’ service at 4pm.  This launches our very own ‘summer season’ in Thorpeness with the first of the Sunday morning services at the Country Club following on July 28th at 9.30am.  The church’s Thorpeness connection goes back to the building of the church there in 1936. Since the church was sold weekly services during the summer have been held at the Country Club for both local people and visitors.  All are always welcome and the services are planned to last no longer than 30 minutes.

Finally I know you will join me in welcoming The Revd James Marston as our Assistant Curate.  James has already moved into The Rectory in Friston and is beginning to explore the benefice.  He will be visiting all of our churches during July and I know you will make him very welcome.  It’s great to have him on board and please do keep him in your prayers.

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

June 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

June looks as if it is going to be a celebratory month in our churches for several reasons. To begin with, it is, of course, Festival month. The Aldeburgh Festival begins on Friday 7th and on Sunday 9th the Festival Service takes place in Aldeburgh church. The Rt Revd Graeme Knowles (one of the Assistant Bishops in our diocese and recently Acting Dean of our cathedral) will be our guest preacher and there will be music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Maurice Duruflé, Roxanna Panufnik and Judith Weir. The church is also the venue for several of the festival’s concerts including an unusual late-night mixture of poetry and music at 10.30pm on Friday June 14th featuring the wonderful tenor Mark Padmore.

The Festival Service falls at Pentecost and early that same morning (June 9th) there will be a very unusual event at Thorpeness. On that day our diocese is celebrating a number of new ways of being church that are springing up around Suffolk and there will be a special service in St Edmundsbury Cathedral at 4pm. Our very own ‘Fresh Expression’, our ‘Pilgrims Together’, has been asked to kick the day off and Bishop Mike will be with us, at 8.30am, by The Mere in Thorpeness. He will be with us for a mini-pilgrimage around the village, ‘catching the fire of Pentecost’ and ending with breakfast in the garden of The Dolphin. There will be resonant worship, singing – and a rowing boat may well be involved! All are welcome, though there will still be a traditional 8.00 Holy Communion service in Aldeburgh church for those who prefer it. (No 8.00 HC in Aldringham that morning.)

By the way, you will have noticed that we have introduced some experimental changes to our service pattern around the benefice. The services themselves remain the same, the day on which they happen is different in some cases. The idea is that we have made sure that on every Sunday of the month there is, somewhere in the benefice, a modern language communion service, a traditional language service and an informal ‘Morning Praise’ service. Whichever style of worship suits you best you will find it somewhere every Sunday. Also experimentally, every 8.00am Holy Communion service in Aldeburgh will be in traditional language and every 10.30 Holy Communion service in modern language (the Book of Common Prayer Mattins service remains unchanged). I must emphasise that these are experiments and after a while we will review them and gauge reactions – and there are no further plans for change. Do please talk to me or one of the clergy team if you have views.

On Sunday June 16th Friston will, once more, hold its annual Open Gardens event. It is a wonderful opportunity for a stroll around the village, a look at some stunning gardens both large and small and a chance for a convivial cuppa in the Village Hall. All proceeds for the afternoon go to St Mary’s so please do plan a trip to Friston that day if you can. You may also like to pop your head around the door at the Parrott and Punchbowl in Aldringham that afternoon too. The pub is holding a Father’s Day event and the church will have a presence there.

June will end with another big celebration. On Saturday 29th James Marston will be ordained Deacon in our cathedral and the following day joins our benefice as Assistant Curate. His first service with us will be the following day which (given that Ordinations traditionally happen at Petertide) will also be Aldeburgh’s Patronal Festival. James will act as Deacon at the Holy Communion service at 10.30 on the 30th and we also welcome the Dean of our cathedral, The Very Revd Joe Hawes, to preach. Afterwards we will adjourn to the Church Hall for a bring and share lunch and an opportunity to spend some time with James. That morning there will be the usual 8.00am Holy Communion services in Aldeburgh and Aldringham but we will all come together to worship and celebrate with James at 10.30 in Aldeburgh. Having spent some time with James recently I know he is very excited about being with us – you may well have seen the article that he wrote for the East Anglian Daily Times recently. Please do hold him in your prayers as his ordination approaches.

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

May 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

Alleluia. He is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Just a little reminder that Easter is not over. When we have put so much into our Easter morning services (and the Easter eggs are discounted in the shops) it is tempting to think that it’s all over. That’s Easter, done and dusted, now we move on to something else. The truth is precisely the reverse. The Easter season (which includes Ascensiontide) lasts until Pentecost, which, this year, falls on June 9th. But, more importantly, Easter should really affect everything that we do. We live daily in the joy of the risen Christ and always should. The more that the joy creeps in to everything that we do, the more we will, literally, live in hope. It is a message, and a way of life, that our world needs desperately to hear. I write at the time when events including the horrendous tragedy in Sri Lanka and the murder of the journalist Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland dominate the headlines. In the wake of the Sri Lankan atrocities a leading Imam, Qari Muhammad Asim, wrote this:

These reprehensible acts, committed by those who are driven by hatred, aim to create fear and division in communities. The extremists want to restrict freedom of religion, which is one of the fundamental human values shared globally. We must stand together in solidarity and show that extremists will never succeed.

And that might equally well be said of Lyra McKee’s shooting too. Extremism, religious or political, is dangerous. We don’t have to look far in our own British politics to see danger in the wings – noisy people pedalling cheap messages. We must beware because before we know where we are we could find ourselves in some very difficult places. Every claim needs to be tested, every quick solution examined. Democracy relies on all of us to play a responsible part.

The continuing Easter celebrations in our parishes include some special events. On Sunday May 5th St Andrew’s Aldringham has accepted the invitation extended by our cathedral in Bury St Edmunds for parishes to spend some time there as their guests.
The offer is a tour of the magnificent building, Choral Evensong and tea. By the time you read this it’s possible that all the places may have been taken but if you are keen to come it might be worth enquiring if there have been any last-minute cancellations. Perhaps the other parishes might be interested in a visit sometime in the future? The following day, Bank Holiday Monday May 6th, the annual Car Boot sale takes place in Friston from 9am – a good time and a bargain or two guaranteed. And on the late May Bank Holiday, Monday May 27th, from 11am until 2pm, Aldeburgh Parish Church is holding a Spring Fair on the wonderfully resurfaced car park! Entertainment for all ages is planned and fun for all of the family promised.

Then, right at the end of the month, on Thursday May 30th, we have Ascension Day, a ‘red letter day’ in the church calendar. We begin our celebrations, as usual, early in the morning in Aldeburgh, as brave souls climb the church tower at 7am and we attempt co-ordinated hymn-singing with the sensible people who remain downstairs. In the evening, at 7.30pm, we join with friends from around our Deanery for a special service in St Margaret’s Parish Church in Leiston. All are most welcome!

One regular event that has been postponed this year is Aldeburgh’s Civic Service, which we normally hold on the third Sunday of May. As many of you will know, Aldeburgh’s Moot Hall is having building work done at the moment and it makes sense to postpone the service until we can join in the celebration of its re-opening. Watch this space for further details, as well as news of some very special events at the end of June. All I’ll say here is to ask that you keep the morning of June 30th free – there will be celebrations!

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

April 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

I am writing in the midst of chaos. I am not referring to the state of my desk (messy though it is) but to the state itself – our nation. Whatever I write about our country and our politics now will almost certainly have changed or become irrelevant by the time you read this, such are the strange times in which we live. I am very grateful to Nicky who, some weeks ago, reminded me of the existence of the Book of Common Prayer’s ‘Prayer for the High Court of Parliament’. I have used it in BCP services ever since as I’m sure she has too. Part of it asks that ‘peace and happiness, truth and justice, religion and piety, may be established among us for all generations.’ Amen and Amen! We live in hope.

Christians, of course, always ‘live in hope’. This is the time of year when we remember that God in human form suffered at the hands of other fellow human beings in unimaginably cruel ways, tortured and murdered for simply being who he was. But, as we’ll recall just after sunrise on Thorpeness beach on Easter morning and repeat in all of our churches later on, ‘Christ is risen’! Not, you’ll note, Christ was risen but Christ is risen. ‘Lives again our glorious King, where, O death, is now thy sting’ – words from Charles Wesley’s great hymn of Easter triumph. The event may have been 2 000 years ago but the risen Christ is alive, here and now. We celebrate at Easter but we should really be living in that celebration all of the time.

Before I was ordained I used to worship at St. James, Piccadilly, in London. At the main Eucharist service on a Sunday morning we gathered around the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer and to receive communion. We took our places there after the Offertory and we all sang as we moved from our pews:

We come to tell our story.

We come to break the bread.

We come to know our rising from the dead.

Those words remind us that there is always hope. We too rise with Christ. As the Easter ‘Prayer after Communion’ puts it ‘Grant us so to die daily to sin that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his risen life.’ We live in joy, we live in celebration.

Our Holy Week and Easter services in the benefice offer us all a chance to journey with Christ through the increasing darkness of Holy Week to the horrors that we recall on Good Friday and then the great celebration of Easter itself. The light makes even more sense if you have experienced the darkness that precedes it so I would commend the whole journey to you. There are the simple reflective services in village churches on the Monday and Tuesday of Holy Week (15th & 16th). On Wednesday 17th, in Aldeburgh’s Roman Catholic church there is, once again, a chance to hear Josef Haydn’s beautiful ‘Seven Last Words of Our Saviour’ in its string quartet version, interspersed with Holy Week meditations. The journey continues with Thursday evening’s Holy Communion service in Aldeburgh church that ends with the stripping of the altar, followed by Good Friday’s special services. The last hour of Aldeburgh’s 3-hour service (12-3) will include the first performance of another musical setting of the ‘Seven Last Words’, this time by our own Jonathan Rutherford. We next gather on Thorpeness beach early on Easter morning – and the celebrations begin. We hope, once again, to ‘carry the light’ from the fire that we burn there to light the Paschal Candle in each of our churches (weather permitting, of course!). And we celebrate! Whatever the political situation is by then (God only knows) we will still celebrate – because Christ is risen. And we will all respond – ‘He is risen indeed! Alleluia!’

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

March 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

I begin with some good news.  I have now been able to speak to all four of our Parochial Church Councils and so can now ‘go public’ on the fact that we will be welcoming a new member to the clergy team this coming summer.  On June 29thJames Marston will be ordained Deacon in our cathedral and will then come to us to ‘serve his title’ (as the church puts it). He will be our full-time Assistant Curate for three years during which time it is our job to help him to grow in his ministry, learn on the job and afterwards be ready, should he feel so called, to become an incumbent – a Vicar or a Rector in charge of a parish or group of parishes.  Many of you will be familiar with James’s work.  He is an award-winning journalist who writes regularly in, among other places, the East Anglian Daily Times.  He has written there about everything from modern slavery to the royal family and has also contributed regular theatre reviews.  He is currently studying for an MA in Theology, Mission and Ministry at Westcott House in Cambridge.  James’s first Sunday with us will be June 30th, which is also Aldeburgh’s Patronal Festival. I suggest that we make the 10.30 service in Aldeburgh on that day one for the whole benefice, to welcome James and to hear our guest preacher, The Very Revd Jo Hawes, Dean of our cathedral in Bury St Edmunds.  I am very much looking forward to working with James and I know that he is looking forward to being with us.

It is James’s calling that has led him to ordination and being with us.  God calls – and calls us all.  A calling might be to ordained ministry but it might be to something else too.  There is a beautiful quotation from the writing of the American Franciscan Richard Rohr which you may have heard before. 

‘There is an old Christian tradition that God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver, with a special song to sing for others, with a special act of love to bestow.  No one else can speak my message, or sing my song, or offer my act of love.

These are entrusted only to me.’  And, I would add, if you don’t sing that special song it remains unsung forever. 

So we should all spend some time thinking about what our ‘song’ might be, what our ‘message’ is.  It might be something apparently very humble but of infinite worth. To be a good parent.  To care for a relative.  To be useful in the community.  Whatever it is we discover that we have a talent and an aptitude for it and we can, in some way and in the broadest sense, be ‘useful’.  Benjamin Britten once wrote of himself and his fellow composers was that “What matters to us now is that people want to use our music.  For that, as I see it, is our job: To be useful, and to the living.” Which, of course, he was in spades.

There are always important jobs to be done which may, to the outsider, seem mundane but if done by someone who has a talent and who wants to be useful can be a real answer to a call.  And it just so happens that around the benefice there are vacancies for churchwardens in all of our parishes and treasurers in two of them. Please do think and pray about it. God even calls treasurers – might it be you, or someone that you know?

And, to end, a further notice about our Lent course this year.  We are going to be looking at the section of the ‘Pilgrim’ course (the successor to ‘Emmaus’ which some of you might remember) that deals with Holy Communion / The Eucharist.  We are approaching the time of year when we remember Jesus’s last meal with his friends and his command to ‘do this in remembrance of me.’  Holy Communion is our response to that very particular call and is, at one and the same time, simple and rich in meaning.  Do join us if you can, either on Wednesdays from March 6th(3pm, Aldeburgh vestry), Thursdays from March 7th(7pm at Onemana, Alde House Lane, Aldeburgh – Jill and Adrian Brown’s house) or Mondays from March 11th(1.30pm, Aldringham vestry – after the 12.30pm Lent Lunches).  You will be very welcome.       

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

February 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

A year or two back there was an article in the Daily Telegraph headed ‘Does the Church have a place in politics?’ What followed were two cogent arguments from Telegraph journalists that, on the surface at least, took opposing views. This was how leader-writer Tim Stanley began his piece.

‘Asking the Church to stay out of politics is like asking the army to stay out of war. If you accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, it radicalises every aspect of your life – including your engagement with the public sphere.’

Executive Editor James Kirkup seemed to take a different attitude.

‘The Church of England has no business advising its flock on how they should vote.’

When you stop to think about it both of these statements are true. Party politics is not a subject for the pulpit and I know that in our churches there are faithful members of our congregations who differ widely on their party political views. But the church cannot stay out of the political sphere. We take our lead from Jesus Christ, who most certainly did become involved in politics and suffered the ultimate cost for it. Jesus’s message was seen as a huge challenge to the ‘establishment’ – Roman and Jewish – and in the end both would have been happy to see him out of the way. God, however, had other ideas! The church still needs to be able to challenge, to ask big questions and to ‘speak the truth to power’ because sometimes ‘power’ needs to hear what is happening in the lives of real people and how decisions that are taken in high places impact on everyone’s lives. 

You may well guess that these thoughts have been inspired by the current political turmoil over ‘Brexit’ but that is not the only place where it can seem that the ordinary voice apparently goes unheard. Locally we are in the middle of some huge electricity-related schemes that could radically change the appearance of our countryside, affect the value of our homes and profoundly change our lives. Friends in Friston have pulled together plans for the local substation, Sizewell C and a scheme to introduce two ‘interconnectors’ joining the UK National Grid with those of Holland and Belgium. Together they, and their construction, would affect all of our parishes in significant ways. If you are anywhere near Friston in the near future, pop into the church porch and look at the map on the noticeboard – it looks pretty devastating.

So what can we do? Firstly we can make sure that we are properly informed and I urge everyone to try and visit one of the upcoming information sessions. These are the gatherings on ‘our patch’ (there are others):

Friston Village Hall Feb 16th 10am – 4pm

Aldeburgh Church Hall Feb 18th  2pm – 7pm

Knodishall Village Hall Feb 22nd  2pm – 7pm

Thorpeness Country Club Feb 23rd  10am – 4pm

Friston Village Hall Feb 27th 2pm – 7pm

Thorpeness Country Club Feb 28th 2pm – 7pm

Aldeburgh Church Hall March 1st 2pm – 7pm

Knodishall Village Hall March 2nd 10am – 4pm

We should let our feelings be known both at the sessions and in writing. I will also be writing to the diocese, making sure that it is aware of just how big the impact of all of these proposals could be not just on our benefice but on our neighbours too. Because the other thing that we must do is what Christians are always called to do – pray. ‘Thy will be done’ is a pretty good place to start! If others in the diocese know to join us in prayer, that will be wonderful. And don’t forget that each Wednesday evening at 6pm prayers are said in Friston church, framed by the gentle evening service of Compline. The whole service lasts no more than 15 minutes and all are always welcome. 

In the gospel that we read in church on January 27th we were reminded of the story of Jesus visiting the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth and reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He astonished those who heard him by saying that Isaiah’s message about, among other things, ‘loosening the bonds of injustice’ had come to fruition in him. That is why God came to earth in human form. Now, in 2019, ‘we are the body of Christ’, and so we must be involved in politics. The good of the people, all people, is our business.

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

January 2019 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

It’s been quite a Christmas and it’s not over yet! I must begin with lots of thank-yous. Even more than usual I have been aware of just how much of a team effort this Christmas has been. Four churches have been beautifully, and very differently, decorated and prepared for worship. Music has been rehearsed with care and performed with gusto. Claire and her trusty (most of the time) printer have been working overtime to produce Orders of Service. Colleagues both lay and ordained have shared in the leading of a very wide variety of services and have done it diligently, prayerfuly and joyfully. One of my personal highlights was attending the Crib Service on Christmas Eve with no leadership responsibilities (Nicky and Jo had that side of things well under control) and so able to be right in the thick of the sheer joy of a church full of people young and old – there were nearly 350 present. Our singing angel, Chrissy, looked gorgeous and sang beautifully. And, of course, there were the animals, two miniature donkeys, ‘Xote and Pan, and Shaun the sheep. They behaved immaculately and the buckets and shovels secreted at the back of church remained unused! It was a fantastic occasion and should give us all pause for thought about how we should reach out to that constituency during the rest of the year. The star that shines from the top of the church tower in Friston and Aldeburgh reminds us that the light shines in the darkness for everyone.

The ‘knitivity’ has been taking its own very special message far and wide too. The figures, including the latest additions of shepherds and sheep, visited the ‘Cribfest’ in Grundisburgh church a couple of weeks before Christmas and made quite an impact. I’m told that schoolchildren queued up to have their photographs taken with them! Then, just before Christmas, the East Anglian Daily Times visited Aldeburgh church, took lots of photos and recorded video interviews with me, ‘head knit’ Rita Fryer and carpenter Adam MacIntyre, who made the wooden stands that support the knitting so well. The video is, as I write, still on the EADT website and shows off the hard work of the Fairfield Centre’s ‘Knit and Natter’ group beautifully. Huge thanks, once again, to Rita and the team. I wonder if the rumour of a donkey for next year could possibly be true ….

This Christmas I wonder if anyone else was struck, as I was, by the coincidence in the Christmas messages and sermons that came from Buckingham Palace, Lambeth Palace and the Vatican? The Queen, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope all said something about tolerance. The Queen spoke of the importance of people with opposing views treating each other respectfully. Archbishop Justin told the congregation in Canterbury Cathedral to aim for peace and unity at a time of challenge and discord. Pope Francis expressed a wish for fraternity. ‘Fraternity among individuals of every nation and culture. Fraternity among people with different ideas, yet capable of respecting and listening to one another.’ As we approach a potentially difficult year in our national life these messages must be heard. Internationally, nationally and locally the fear is that if any one constituency does not get its own way its reaction may well be extreme. However much we disagree about something (anything!) the message of Christmas is a very different one. As Archbishop Justin said ‘God’s language of love is exclusive. It requires us to forget other languages of hatred, tribalism, rivalry, political advantage and of materialism, pride, greed, and so many more.’ That is one big ask and, sadly, it does not come easily to most of us. But if Christmas tells us anything at all it is that we are all called to try and speak the same language as those angels who, having first terrified the shepherds in the field outside Bethlehem, brought them the best news that they, or any of us, would ever hear. God is with us. The Good News is here. Do not be afraid. Peace.

With my love and prayers for a most peaceful 2019

Mark

December 2018 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

I’m writing this in a little room at Belsey Bridge Conference Centre where I’ve come, for just over 24 hours, to be inspired and guided by Bishop Tim Stevens. Some of you may remember him – he was, for a few years, Bishop of Dunwich before spending 16 years as Bishop of Leicester. Now retired he lives in Bury St Edmunds and is an Honorary Assistant Bishop in our diocese. The subject of his sessions with us is ‘A Church for the World – Witnessing to the Kingdom in uncertain times’. We are currently halfway through our time together and it is proving to be fascinating and very thought-provoking. As the news headlines continue to challenge and sometimes frighten us, what should the church be saying and doing? When we pray ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’ what do we actually mean? What might God’s kingdom look like if it were to dawn tomorrow? These are all challenging questions and the answers will be challenging too. It has occurred to me, as Bishop Tim has been speaking, that we, as a society, really ought to be more angry. Why, in one of the wealthiest nations on earth, are there foodbanks? Why are we constantly hearing that ‘we’ cannot afford to care for our elderly properly? Why are we cutting back on so many things that the people in our country need?

The church does speak out. Archbishop Justin has been pretty clear about, for example, what ‘economic justice’ might mean if it were to be extended to everyone and his speech to the Institute for Public Policy Research back in September is well worth reading, not just the bits that were reported in some of the press. (A little gentle Googling will soon find it.) But the message that Jesus was trying to get over when he said ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ often seems to be lost on us.

The Christmas season approaches and, all being well, Aldeburgh Parish Church will soon be illuminated not just by stars in the windows but by a bright star shining from the top of the tower too. ‘Follow the Star’ is a theme for the days of Christmas, suggested by our Archbishops and with a beautifully-produced little booklet to go with it containing short meditations for the twelve days of Christmas. There will be copies in all of our churches. The Christmas star, which shepherds and Magi followed to lead them to Christ, beckons us all too. The incarnation, God here on earth, born as a human being in what we might call inauspicious circumstances, sharing his first night on earth with animals as well as humans, is a miracle among miracles. The baby grew to become someone who called people to follow him as ‘the way, the truth and the life’. Speaking the truth to power cost him his life though, of course, that was not the end of the story. But, as Bishop Tim has been asking us, are we prepared for the cost of being his disciples?

Over the next few weeks our churches will, once again, tell of Christ’s birth, sing the praises of the newborn king and joyfully celebrate the incarnation. Do join us whenever you can, ‘follow the star’ for yourselves and know the love and the peace (and the challenge) that God came to earth to bring.

With my love and prayers for the happiest of Christmases

Mark

November 2018 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

At 11 o’clock on the 11th day of the 11th month of this year the two minutes of silence that will be kept in all of our parishes will resonate with a very special significance. It will be 100 years to the second since the Armistice took effect that officially ended hostilities on the Western Front – effectively the end of the First World War. It was the conclusion of the bloodiest war that anyone had ever known. 65 million men had been mobilised from countries all around the world. Historians estimate that around 10 million of them were killed and another 20 million wounded. The Western Front was the most famous of the theatres of war but there was also an Eastern Front that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea, an Italian front at the meeting of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire and other fronts in Salonica, Palestine, East Africa and Cameroon. Around 100, 000 US troops were killed, 60, 000 from India and around the same number from Australia. There were even 300 casualties from Japan. This truly was a global conflagration and it changed world history in many ways. Empires came to an end, the borders of nation states were redrawn and there were political consequences that we are living with still.

We know from the names on our town and village war memorials that life for so many local families changed drastically too. Fathers and sons, husbands and boyfriends were killed and maimed. Women took on unfamiliar tasks. Hardly anyone’s life was unaffected in some way or another. But, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month it all ended. The sense of relief was overwhelming. The Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, spoke to jubilant crowds, saying ‘You and your children will remember this day as one on which right triumphed over wrong and justice was restored to the world.’ And we still remember – especially in this year. We remember those who suffered and died for their countries. We remember those words of Jesus in John’s gospel – ‘No-one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’. We remember.

This year we are going to reinstate a service that has taken place in the past in Aldeburgh church but this time it will be for the whole benefice. At 6pm on the evening of Sunday November 4th we will be holding a service called ‘Remembering the Loved’. Everyone who has lost a loved one, recently or in the past, is invited to join us. The service will be quiet, gentle and full of opportunities for personal remembrance. There will be an opportunity during the service to light a candle and say a prayer or two. If you, or anyone you know, would appreciate such an opportunity you are very welcome to be with us.

The reason we hold such a service at this time of year is because not only are we in a time of remembrance, with Armistice Day only a few days away, but also because November 2nd is kept in the church calendar as the day for ‘The Commemoration of the Faithful Departed’ – otherwise known as All Souls Day. Solemn though this may be it has, in the past, been a time for fun too. A rather splendid publication from 1902 called ‘Christ lore: being the legends, traditions, myths, symbols, customs and superstitions of the Christian church’ contains the following:

… bands of children, or of poor men, went round to the houses of the well-to-do on Souling Day, as they called it, begging money, apples, ale, or doles of cake. In some parts specially baked cakes were prepared in readiness to give away; they were called soul-cakes. The begging was performed by the aid of quaint ditties.

Cake? Ale? I feel a revival coming on!

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark

October 2018 – Monthly letter from Revd Mark Lowther

Dear Friends

(With apologies to those who might have read some of what follows in the Parish Magazine for Aldringham, Friston, Knodishall and Thorpeness – I thought I ought to circulate it as widely as possible.)

A week or two back our friend The Revd Sheila Hart was licensed by our Archdeacon, The Venerable Ian Morgan, and at the service, in Saxmundham Parish Church, he preached a stirring and thought-provoking sermon. He spoke about how the church is called to preach the gospel ‘afresh in each generation’ (to quote the services at which clergy are ordained and readers licensed). That injunction poses us challenges – challenges that change constantly as the lives of the people that the church is called to serve change. The church sits at a crossroads, where that ever-changing world meets Jesus Christ who never changes – ‘the same yesterday, today and forever’ as the biblical Letter to the Hebrews tells us. But (and this is a big question) how much does that mean that the church should remain ‘the same yesterday, today and for ever’?

When I arrived in Suffolk just over three years ago I let it be known that I was not interested in change for its own sake. That way lies chaos and confusion. But, I wonder, might there be ways in which the church’s way of doing things might adapt (maybe a less frightening word that ‘change’) in order to carry out its task of preaching the gospel afresh in this generation? There is a danger for all of us (and I firmly include myself) that we think of the church as a comfort-blanket that insulates us from the world around us – a place where things are familiar and reassuring in a world that sometimes seems to be rushing away from us. If we read the gospels and hear again what Jesus said and did then something else soon emerges. Jesus’s message was a long way from being a comfort-blanket, it was a challenge to the established way of being. He said some things that were designed to disturb. He said that to follow him was risky and potentially dangerous and might put people at odds with those around them. The heart of his message, though, was good news – good news for everyone. ‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’ and that good news is that we are all (ALL!) equally loved by God and called to love each other just as we are loved.

What might this really mean for us, here, now? Who are the people who need to hear this good news – the ‘the gospel afresh’ in this generation? How might the church reach them? As church, are we currently doing anything that actively discourages them? Big questions all!! Perhaps, however, these should be the questions that drive the church’s thinking in the days, months and years to come. The challenge is a big one but if we duck it then, in a few years’ time, the consequences might be drastic. Bluntly – do we want to be part of the problem or part of the solution?

I would really appreciate any feedback on these thoughts – from those who attend church and those who don’t. Drop me a line by post at The Vicarage, email to mark@thelowthers.com or, of course, catch me for a word in church sometime.

With my love and prayers, as ever

Mark