Minister’s letter: patience and St Paul’s letters from prison

Dear Friends,

Well here we are again, back in lockdown for now, albeit with hope via the vaccine roll-out. I pray for you all, longing to meet up safely again once that is possible. This last year has been a lesson in patience for us all and that never comes easy, does it? I remember in my twenties finding it hard waiting for something: my mother chided me with the time-honoured words Patience is a virtue. In response my cheeky brother gave me a car sticker with the words “Lord, give me patience, and give it to me right now!

The present lockdown set me thinking about St. Paul’s experience of being imprisoned for his faith. In AD 60, he arrived in Rome and was imprisoned later that year. For the next two years, Paul lived under house arrest. His four letters from prison, which can be found in the bible, were written during this time.

His letter to the Ephesians includes his teaching on putting on the armour of God); imitating Christ; guidelines for a good, healthy marriage;  being saved by grace; the calling of apostles & teachers; making the most of every opportunity; and not going to bed angry.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians speaks of God completing the work He started; finding joy in present circumstances; one day every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord; rejoice in the Lord always; and I can do all things through Christ.

The Letter to the Colossians includes putting on love and a heart of; do everything in the name of Jesus; family relations; and work as if working for the Lord.

His Letter to Philemon, which was written to Philemon, a wealthy fellow believer, urges him to forgive his slave Onesimus (a fellow believer) for running away.

Even while imprisoned, whether in person or via letter, Paul continued his profound ministry with the authority of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t it be great if lockdown meant more of us at St. Paul’s URC find time to read our Bibles? Better still, we might try to put his teaching into practice while we wait, patiently or otherwise, for the freedom to come and go again in safety, and the freedom to gather again for worship at our church that bears St. Paul’s name. Oh what a joy that will be!

Take care and stay safe!  Your friend and Minister,

Anthea

“I lift up my eyes” – thoughts from Reverend Anthea Wickens, our Minister

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.”

These words come from Psalm 121 in the New International Version of the bible*.  Whenever I am in trouble, this psalm is my “go to text”. It is such a powerful reminder that in all circumstances of this life we are upheld by the Lord our Maker. What a comfort that is!

One thing especially I love about this psalm is the first five words…”I lift up my eyes…” Lifting one’s eyes is such a good start to feeling better about anything and everything. There is plenty going on  that could leave us feeling down, but the Psalmist inspires us to follow his lead and to lift up our eyes. Whenever I read this psalm, I am powerfully reminded of my visits to the small but beautiful Scottish island of Iona. Over the entrance to the Macleod Centre, someone had painted a lovely bright rainbow along with these words “May I never miss a rainbow by looking down.”

Throughout 2020 rainbows have been the symbol of our appreciation for the NHS and also the symbol of hope. In many ways, the current vaccination programme is like a rainbow appearing to signal the end of the storm. This is not the time to despair, rather this is the time to lift up our eyes. So let us lift our eyes up to the hills. Indeed to lift our eyes to the mountains, for the mountains symbolise the presence of the Lord our Maker. He watches over our lives, now and always. As we lift up our eyes, let us also lift our voices in prayer to thank God for all his faithfulness and his goodness.

[*The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV ® Copyright © 1973 1978 1984 2011 by Biblica, Inc TM Used by permission, All rights reserved worldwide. CCLI licence 7643]

Reverend Anthea’s letter December 2020: Journeying with the Magi

Dear Friends,

As part of my Advent reading, I came across the theme of ‘Journeying with the Magi’. Despite the paradox posed by travel restrictions I was surprised how it speaks into our current situation. Matthew tells us the Magi observed a bright star, which led them to set out together on a journey of discovery, leading eventually to the squalor of a stable in Bethlehem where a new-born baby was laid in a manger. We don’t know how many Magi there were, or how they travelled, but clearly their journey was of paramount importance to them. They sought neither material nor financial gain. They journeyed far, following the star, wanting only to present their gifts and pay homage to the new king whose birth was heralded by the new star in the heavens.

So then, as we isolate at home due to Covid-19; as our nation prepares to isolate itself behind new borders due to Brexit, and as the United Kingdom itself seems less and less united, what is the Magi’s spiritual significance for us in these strange and troubling times? Esther de Waal knew nothing of Covid, Brexit or Devolution when she wrote these words: “The Advent journey is, or should be, an inner journey or pilgrimage inspired by the Magi who saw themselves as guests of the world, ready to go wherever the Spirit might take them…seeking their true self in Christ”.

I hope you all enjoy your Advent journey, inspired by the Magi. My prayer is that we may always walk on common ground with all God’s people (yet do so safely for now, until a vaccine is available!)

On behalf of myself and my husband Alan, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Spirit-filled Advent, a joy-filled Christmas, a profound Epiphany, and a very healthy, happy and peace-filled New Year. May the birth of Jesus be a really fantastic blessing to all the waiting world, bringing hope of much better times to come. May God our Maker, Saviour and Sustainer bless us all and keep us safe.

Your friend and Minister, Rev. Anthea Wickens

Remembrance in Harmans Water 2020

On Sunday 8 November, a short socially distanced outdoor service of remembrance is planned to be held in the courtyard at St Paul’s Church, The Square, Harmans Water starting at 10.45am. All are welcome.  However due to the latest restrictions this may have to be an online service, This page will be updated on Thursday 5 November when the restrictions have been finalised.

Remembrance poster 2020

Commitment for Life 2020

On Sunday 25th October, St Paul’s held its annual Commitment for Life Service, which was led by Revd Kevin Snyman.  A video of the service can be found here.

Commitment for Life is the United Reformed Church’s global justice programme. It is a way local congregations are enabled to participate in actions for justice around the world by pray, action and giving. Commitment for Life partners with Christian Aid and Global Justice Now and focus on four regions around the world:-

  • Bangladesh
  • Zimbabwe
  • Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
  • Central America (Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala).