Minister’s letter June 2021: “They will soar on wings like eagles”

My Dear Friends,

As we try to get back to “normal” church life after lockdown, one particular Bible verse keeps coming into my mind – it’s this famous verse from Isaiah 40: 31*.

Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

This famous verse encapsulates our new-found energies and our utter exhilaration at even the simplest things in life that we would have normally taken for granted. Other versions of the Bible say ‘those who wait on the Lord’ will renew their strength. Christians like ourselves who seek to walk the Jesus way probably know and understand from experience what it means to ‘Wait on the Lord’ and what it means to ‘Hope in the Lord’. Waiting on the Lord implies prayer and patience, whereas Hoping in the Lord implies prayer and eager anticipation – two sides of the same coin, perhaps? Though different, these two versions accurately reflect aspects of our faith-filled trust as we have longed for new strength.

The imagery of soaring on wings like eagles is one that I hope will inspire us all for many months to come. May we soar to new heights in all we attempt in Christ’s name. As we emerge from lockdown, I imagine some of us will be feeling exhausted, others are stir-crazy, others again may be anxious about venturing forth. Isaiah calls us to remember who God is! God is never weak or tired, his love is everlasting. As the bible says in Isaiah 41: 31*:

For I hold you by your right hand – I, the Lord your God. And I say to you, ‘Don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.

My prayer is that, henceforth, we may never tire of doing good, and that we may live as thankful people who resolve never again to take so much for granted. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, ‘When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude’. May God bless us all, and may we remember always to count our blessings one by one, and to pray for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Reverend Anthea Wickens

*  Copyright notice: The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV ® Copyright © 1973 1978 1984 2011 by Biblica, Inc TM Used by permission, All rights reserved worldwide.

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

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

Reverend Anthea’s letter June 2020 “I will give you a new heart ….”

Recently, I have been trying to devote a bit more time to Bible-reading, starting with selected extracts from the book of Ezekiel. I wonder, how much of Ezekiel you have read? It is a rather strange apocalyptic style book. Ezekiel experiences a number of
powerful visions of God in all glory, which affect him deeply. But it is quite heavy going, and full of strange imagery, hence my decision to read selected extracts!

The overarching theme of the book concerns the relationship between God and his people.  A priest and a prophet, Ezekiel was living in exile in Babylon, denouncing Jerusalem’s poor moral and spiritual life, but at the same time offering hope for the future. The prophet foresees God’s kingdom established in perfect form.

I feel this is a timely theme for us in our times today. We need to be Kingdom people, willing to heed a prophetic voice. Recently, crowds have taken to the streets expressing concerns over racial justice. And the government has been obliged to yield to Marcus Rashford’s campaign to offer more help to children growing up in poverty.

In the midst of this, and other news stories, God speaks through the  prophet: ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’

I pray that God will put a new heart and a new spirit in all of us to help us to move forward in faith and in trust.

Your friend and Minister, Anthea

Message from Clare Downing, Moderator of Wessex Synod of the United Reformed Church

If I had a pound for every time over the last three weeks that I’ve read, heard or said the words “when things get back to normal” I’d be rich by now. Whether it’s about worship or shopping, meetings or coffee with friends, we are living in strange times where many of us are disorientated by the fact that things are not normal. We may be feeling very isolated, or possibly overwhelmed by all those virtual ways of meeting up. We may be delighting in having time to catch up with half finished projects, or lack the concentration to start anything, let alone finish it. We are having to think and plan differently.Two thousand years ago, in the aftermath of the death of a travelling preacher, a group of his friends were also in a state of disorientation. They reacted in different ways – some wanting to ensure that practical matters were taken care of, some self-isolating for fear of the authorities, some debilitated by all that was happening. And in the midst of this, we have Simon Peter announcing that he is going fishing. In other words, whilst everything around him is so strange and uncertain, he wants something to be normal -and fishing is, for him, the habitual thing to do. Of course, if we go further on in this story from John’s gospel, we discover that the fishing trip is anything but a normal one, and it ends in breakfast on the beach, and the challenge to Peter to respond again to Jesus command to “follow me”.During this rather strange Easter time, we too might want things to be normal. For Peter and the other friends of Jesus, despite their best efforts, they could not return to a previous way of life. The resurrection gave them no choice but to do things differently. Perhaps as we celebrate Easter this year, whether alone with a Bible, or in a video linked act of worship, we might be challenged by Jesus to follow him, not to expect things to return to how they were before, but, in the words of John Bell’s famous hymn, “let me turn and follow you and never be the same”.May you know both the peace, and the provocation of the risen Christ this Easter.