Social Supermarkets

Apparently giving people food without asking for any payment is a breach of their human rights. But for those who have no food and no money a foodbank is often the answer for a short term crisis solution. But what about a longer term fix? I was given an opportunity to visit “Community Shop” in Goldthorpe near Barnsley in Yorkshire, a one time coal town. It looks like any other shop from the outside with windows covered in information so the inside isn’t visible. Entry is by a swipe card just like for a hotel bedroom and the cards are only issues to a maximum of 750 people at any one time and to qualify you must be on a means tested benefit.

This is the next step on the ladder to financial recovery after foodbank – paying for food but not at the full price. Surplus food is bought from manufacturers and supermarkets, all still in date but available simply because of over-production. Normally disposal would cost the manufacturer or supermarket but Community shop will pay them 10% of the shelf price so the food isn’t destroyed. The supermarket then sells it to its customers for 30% of the shelf price which means they get heavily discounted food but the 20% covers the supermarket costs. They stock 800 lines covering all the main shopping items except alcohol and tobacco. Partner supermarkets include Asda and Waitrose as well as M&S.

There are currently two “Community Shops”, the other being situated in South Norwood, London. They receive logistical support from “Company Shop” which operates discount priced shopping outlets for employees of large companies.

But here’s the big difference between these two supermarkets and the others on the High Street. During the 6 month membership customers undertake a programme which includes cookery and nutrition and a dedicated fortnight getting ready for a guaranteed interview with a potential employer. One of the staff is a chef who provides meals for those on the courses often inviting them to help. The kitchen and cafe is airy and well kitted out all of which honours the clients.

It is a real place of hope.

Will we see more? I hope so.

Mark Ward LLM

Sermon: Preparing for Christ’s coming using the Jesus Prayer, Advent Sunday 2015 at Fordingbridge and Sandleheath.

If you are sitting comfortably I will begin, for this morning I may be a little longer than I usually am. And that’s my subject – time. Does it rule your life? Do you get up at a set time, have your lunch at a set time my grandma did, lunch at 12, tea at 4, go to bed at a set time? Are you always on time, hours early or that person that sneaks in every week at precisely 5 minutes late? Do you keep your clocks 5 minutes early to avoid being late? Do you have a calendar that you write all the events in your life in or a diary you carry with you. Of course keeping up with everything is now very simple. I haven’t worn a watch for years except for the fake $10 Rolex I wear with my dinner jacket when I need to dress to impress but which loses 10 minutes in every hour. I carry my time around with me on my phone as well as my diary although since Gary arrived I have also used a calendar as a back-up for church matters which he kindly supplies although more often than not I forget to update it or I put something so cryptic I can’t remember what it signifies and I end up emailing or texting him for a translation.

Some of you know that we have a caravan on the east coast which my parents originally owned. My mother filled it with clocks and every time we used it the first thing I did was to collect them all up and put them in a cupboard because quite honestly I didn’t want to be ruled by regulated time when I was relaxing. That’s not to say I don’t like clocks, I love them and we have three I particularly cherish, one which was my father’s, he had very few possessions that were his alone, he had owned the clock before he was married. It sits in our conservatory unwound but a reminder. We also have a cuckoo clock which hangs in the hall which I wind every morning and depending on the weather it gains or losses in equal measure and has to be hung at an angle otherwise it stops. The cuckoo remains off until the grandchildren arrive when we spend every half hour dashing to see the cuckoo appear, and we have a grandfather clock which belonged to my grandparents and was made in Sleaford, where they lived by Nathaniel Shaw. It always loses despite attempts to alter the regulator. And there is a similar clock in the cottage we use in Pembrokeshire which I wind as soon as I arrive because the tick relaxes me. As you might have guessed these clocks mean rather more to me than their function which in all three cases is somewhat wanting.

I wonder who it was that decide we needed to chop the cycle of day and night into 24 equal parts and then chop those into 60 equal parts and those again into 60 equal parts which of course we now chop into hundredths and thousandths. Why did it become important for us to identify certain parts of the day, and why did we decide that the hour and the half hour would signify the start times of many events in our life rather than just doing them when it pleased us?

Well we couldn’t live our lives without measuring time now could we? How would we know to be at the station at the time the train is supposed to be there even though usually it isn’t? How could we all congregate here or in a cinema so we could all watch the film or start the service at the same time, how could the family meet around the table to eat food together at the point it is ready?

But is time something much bigger than knowing when something is happening?

Many faiths believe that time is cyclical, that it consists of a series of repeating ages. In our tradition of Judaic Christianity we believe in linear time from the creation of the earth to the end of time. Of course we have no idea when that will be, it could be later today, in which case I hope it is after the Strictly results because I want to know who has been evicted, or of course it could be millennia away.

When Jesus was on earth telling the time was rather simpler. In the Gospel we are given the fig tree to consider. People only needed to look at the fig tree to know what season it was, in bud, spring, in full leaf, summer, ripe fruit, autumn and then looking dead during winter. They knew when to plant by reference to the activity of plants and the position of the sun in the sky.

Jesus appears to suggest that when he returns the weather will be turned on its head, the seas will roar and strange things will happen to the sun, moon and stars.

So maybe despite the recent rainy spell I will get to see Strictly this evening as the sun seems to still be where it should be in the sky.

Jesus talks about time simply in terms of being ready. He doesn’t say to us, you are ok as long as you write “prepare for the end of time” in your calendar for 5th June 2023, he says, you have to be constantly ready because I’m not going to tell you when I’m coming back. Being able to measure time isn’t going to help you, you need to be ready now.

Well we do measure time to give our lives order, and today is New Year’s Day so Happy New Year. No my calendar isn’t a month out, today is the first day of our new Christian Year, Advent Sunday, Advent translated from the Latin meaning “coming”. The next 4 weeks are about preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord, the birth of the Saviour of the World. At Advent and in Lent we prepare, we prepare for life and we prepare for death and new life in the cross and resurrection. These are times which we limit by the calendar so we know when they begin and end but in reality they are just passages of space for us to get ready. It’s a shame that in this coming season we have allowed ourselves to be overcome by the hype of Christmas, the adverts that began several weeks ago, the cards that have been in the shops since September and even in in the hallowed space of Winchester Cathedral Close the Christmas Market was open last week with incessant piped carols already playing, maybe I’m being cynical but is the Cathedral cashing in on our materialist approach allowing it to overshadow the very festival it stands to celebrate? Why do we attach so much more time and effort to getting ready for a massive outpouring of excess than we do to be in a place to meet Jesus when he comes, either symbolically at Christmas as a baby or for that second time he tells us will happen? Verse 34 of the Gospel “Don’t let yourselves become occupied with too much feasting and drinking and with the worries of this life”.

I know many will view my actions as bah-humbug, as evidenced by my Christmas headwear, but when everyone starts decorating the office with baubles and bits of tinsel I always refuse to join in, not just because I’m a killjoy, but because for the next four weeks we need to focus on getting ready, being in the right place and not being distracted.  It’s a time to reflect, a time to take stock and see who we really are and whether we are coming up short in the eyes of God.

I am very privileged to be able to spend quite a bit of time with Bishop Jonathan because we sit on several committees together and over the years we have become firm friends. Jonathan has a very elastic attitude to time, so much so we have started to tell him everything begins half an hour before it really does so he will only be a bit late, but it is because he is more concerned about what happens in the time he has, than the time itself that makes him the godly man he is. Several weeks ago now I wasn’t very well and he found out. His diary is madness personified, it is always packed, but somehow he found out I was ill and the next morning the doorbell rang and there he was. I remember saying to him, “surely you should be somewhere else” and he said to me “brother” this is where I need to be”. He spent far too long chatting to me seemingly completely unworried about all the other things he should have been doing. He had brought a book with him called “Living The Jesus Prayer” by Irma Zaleski. It is only 63 pages long and many of them are only half full as it has 62 very short chapters. I don’t think he will mind me telling you that he told me that he finds prayer really hard – two minutes in and he is thinking about tomorrow, next week, getting the car serviced, anything but what he is supposed to be doing. He firmly believes that much of our private prayer time should be listening not talking, so he has this simple mantra. First he stays quiet for just a few moments and the he says “Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit” and after another short pause he starts to use the Jesus prayer which is simply “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner,” which he repeats over and over until his mind is clear of all the distractions. Zaleski has one chapter about meeting God alone and she says this, we say “have mercy on me” not “on us” because we have to make our own individual peace with God, find our own relationship with Christ, meet him face to face. No one can do it for us. Somebody can bring us to Jesus but we must meet him ourselves” or in a popular saying – “you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”, it’s up to the horse to make the final move, and so it is for us.

I have been using the Jesus prayer since that day and it works for me. I printed it and put it on the key fob of my car keys but within a day or so I’d remembered it by heart. So, this advent I simply ask you this – are you prepared? If the idea of the Jesus prayer appeals to you as a way to stop and move out of our time to spend time with God, and if you’d like to not only use it but think a bit around it I have put 10 copies of the book on the coffee bar, please feel free to take one. If you are no 11 onwards you can get it for around £5 on Amazon or Abebooks.

I’m going to finish with a short extract from the chapter “desire for the presence of God” which goes like this, and this is the author speaking:

I once heard a story about an old parishioner of St Jean Vianney (the Cure of Ars) who used to spend a lot of time alone in church. St Jean became curious about him and asked him one day, “Why do you spend so much time sitting in church? What do you think about?” The old man answered, “Oh I just look at Him, He looks at me, and we are happy together.”

This wonderful story illustrates two important points about contemplative prayer: it is not complicated, but is a simple way of being in the presence of God; and we do not have to go to the desert or enter a monastery to experience it.  We can practise it anywhere, at any time. But most of us, like the Russian Pilgrim, need help and encouragement to begin. We need to find a path of prayer, a simple way of experiencing the presence of God and remaining in it. It can be for us a means of entering the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. As Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity has said, “Heaven is God and God is in my heart”.

Living the Jesus Prayer, Practising the prayer of the heart. Irma Zaleski. Canterbury Press, Norwich edition printed 2011

Mark Ward, LLM

Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King on 22nd November 2015 at Fordingbridge.

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge for the Feast of Christ the King on 22nd November 2015.

Play “All you need is love” by the Beatles.

“All you need is love”. It is extraordinary that having chosen to use this song before the attacks in Paris it should be preceded by an excerpt of the Marseilleuse, the French National Anthem. I want to use this refrain of the Beatles (which of course shows my age) as a theme for this morning’s sermon. Following the service in the Cathedral last Saturday we are commissioned to launch the partnership action plan which has been in the making for the past year or so, having started with a parish conference in 2013. Thus the focus of our reflection this morning is on the Mission of Jesus. Now the Mission of Jesus and the Mission of the Church find its origin in the Mission of God. And herein lies a great mystery because it throws us back to ask the question “What is the Mission of God?”  Put more simply, “What is life all about?”-no big deal.

I want to suggest that the Beatles had the answer, “All you need is love”. Countless people-philosophers, poets, musicians and composers, artists, philanthropists, reformers-all contribute to reach out for a meaning to the big question, “What is life all about?”-“What is God’s purpose for humankind?”

I want to suggest that God caused the world to come into being by an act of conscious loving. God made no conditions on that creation, it was an unconditional act of love. It was a risk but a beautiful risk. Whatever else we make believe or think about the purpose of the universe and our part in that universe, we are faced with the utter graciousness of God’s unconditional love for all his creatures including humankind. If that is the Mission of God then it is also the Mission of Jesus and the Mission of the Church of which you and I are a part.

Today that is the question which lies behind the partnership action plan. The way in which we take this plan forward is to be informed by our answer to this question. St Paul in his famous verses from his first letter to the Corinthian Church might have written this to us here today,

“If I beaver away at the parish action plan but do not have love, I gain nothing”.

It begs the question “how do we lovingly put this plan into action?” What constitutes a loving action plan as opposed to one without love?

I want to suggest that the life of Christ demonstrated how the purposes of God’s love found their fullest expression. He is our example. When we examine his life what kind of loving do we find? The establishing of a kingdom of love in the hearts and minds of all people.

Unconditional, costly, humble, forgiving and inclusive.

Love is unconditional. Most of us when we give compliments to other do so on the basis what the other person has achieved. “What a pretty dress.” “I do like your hairstyle.” “You have made a good job of painting that fence.” “Well done you-a Grade A is brilliant”.  Unconditional responses are rarer “It is really great having you in this team”. “What a lovely congregation you are”. I guess the ultimate unconditional compliment is “I love you”. That is the ultimate compliment God paid us when the world was called into being. What conditions shall we impose on the action plan through our mistrust and fear?  Shall we build in securities which will prevent taking risks and trusting others? We surely will because of the frailty of our human nature.

At the moment some in our world have been blinded by hate and the consequence is fear and terror for the people of Paris, in Syria, Egypt, and Beirut and so the list goes on. And the reality is that whilst God may hate the deeds of the perpetrators they remain loved.

Love is costly. Most of us have had and will have our hearts broken because we love and have loved. Loving is a risky business. The greatest risk has been taken by God in bring the world into being. Jesus reflects that act of sacrificial giving in risking his life to promote God’s kingdom of love for all people. He shows us how painful loving can be by losing his life in the most horrific manner-a horror matched on the battle fields of our world. How shall we measure the cost of putting the action plan into motion? Will it be by risking spending our church finances until it hurts? Will it be by personal sacrifice of time and skill? Can we risk failure in the eyes of the world? Shall we stand up for the most marginalised of our world for fear we ourselves shall be ridiculed?

Love is humble. I am not talking about the obsequious humility of Dicken’s Uriah Heep in ‘Great Expectations’. I am talking about a humility which honours others’ differences, which seeks to know and listen intently to the other, and which is prepared to set aside our own ego in the service of other people. I know-how hard is that? Jesus warned the disciples that their personal power was to be used to empower others not as a weapon for repression and bullying. The church in its time has and still does render some groups in society voiceless-the struggle goes on for gay, lesbian and transgender Christians and women’s ministry. What does a humble church look like when putting our plan into action.

Love is forgiving and inclusive. I recently quoted some words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the Wednesday Communion Service which are so powerful. Remember his work for the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” In South Africa after the fall of apartheid. He preached these words at a sermon in Pasadena:

“God’s family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, ‘I, if I am lifted up, will draw…’ Did he say, ‘I will draw some, and tough luck for others’? He said, ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all, ‘All! All! All!-Black, white, yellow; rich, poor; clever, not so clever; beautiful, not so beautiful. All! All! It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Bush-All!…Gay, lesbian, so-called straight; All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.”

Again hear the words of Antoine Leiris, the young man who talked so movingly about the death of his wife Helen in the Paris bombings:

‘You will not have my hatred’ he wrote: “On Friday evening you stole the life of an exceptional person, the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.”

“I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God for whom you kill blindly made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife is a wound in his heart.

“So no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you. You want it, but to respond to hatred with anger would be to give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.

“You would like me to be scared, for me to look at my fellow citizens with a suspicious eye, for me to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You have lost.

“I saw her this morning. At last, after nights and days of waiting. She was as beautiful as when she left on Friday evening, as beautiful as when I fell head over heels in love with her more than 12 years ago.

“Of course I am devastated with grief, I grant you this small victory, but it will be short-lived.”

“I know she will be with us every day and we will find each other in heaven with free souls which you will never have.

“Us two, my son and I, we will be stronger than every army in the world. I cannot waste any more time on you as I must go back to [my son] who has just woken from his sleep.

“He is only just 17 months old, he is going to eat his snack just like every other day, then we are going to play like every other day and all his life this little boy will be happy and free.

“Because you will never have his hatred either.”

Shall the working out of our action plan pass the Tutu test or the Leiris Test?

Above, below and through all, love is our connection with the deepest part of ourselves, with others and with the mystery of God. Creation set us up for this connection; in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, love is re-established as the hope for humankind to be re-connected with the mystery of God; and Christ’s body the Church is but one channel for connecting people to love’s mystery. Week by week the church throughout the world in all its many guises breaks God’s word and God’s bread as a sign of that hope and love, and upon which we can feed.

On this celebration of the feast of Christ the King, on this day when we are commissioned as the body of Christ in this place to take forward our action plan, may we remind and take to ourselves the heart of God in Christ’s gospel of love which is unconditional, humble, forgiving and inclusive and provides us with  an eternal blueprint for establishing God’s kingdom, that is the rule of love in the hearts of everyone everywhere , unconditionally-for in the immortal words of the Beatles, ‘All you need is love’.


John Towler

Assistant Priest

Sermon All Souls’ Day Fordingbridge 1 November 2015

Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church,  Fordingbridge for All Souls Day on 1St November 2015.

Each of us this evening has come with a story or several stories in our hearts. Those stories are many and varied and tell of the lives of those we love but see no longer. You may think they are ordinary stories of ordinary lives-yes they are; but they are also stories infinitely precious and unique to us.

One of the stories I bring is the story of my mum. Her death when I was 23, was a blow I hadn’t expected. It came suddenly and it took me awhile to realise that I had been robbed of one of my protectors and sustainers during those war and post war years. I was so buttoned up with thoughts of having to be strong for my father that it took me some years to grieve for her. In fact I had not cried for 11 years. And then I met another priest who hadn’t cried for 16 years and with some help from a facilitator we helped each other to let those waters roll!

We have severally said our goodbyes in many ways, maybe many times. For most we have been part of a ritual of saying goodbye at a funeral service in church, at the graveside or at a crematorium. Tonight the invitation is to ‘say hello again’ by cherishing the memories our loved ones who have died. From this perspective, the loss of a loved one need not be final and total. Although there is indeed such a loss as far as the physical presence of the deceased is concerned, on other levels the influence, memories and legacy of them will continue to exert on those of us left behind. Such memories or words of wisdom can continue to be a source of strength, comfort and inspiration in the future. Of course this is not the only occasion we shall ‘say hello again’, but in this space through poetry and prayers, through music, with lighted candles and flowers we hold our loved ones in our hearts, giving renewed thanks for what they mean to each one of us and knowing we are held in God’s eternal mystery.

Death is both horrible and as our homecoming. It is horrible because so often we watch a life still with infinite possibilities being taken from us. Our thoughts and feelings about the dying may not always be loving and positive but we are left feeling helpless as we watch a life slip away. But death is also our homecoming. St. John reporting the words of Jesus before his own death which was both horrible and a homecoming, says these strange words,

“In my Father’s house are many resting places…”

I want to suggest two meanings for us this evening on All Souls Day. This house of God here at St. Mary’s is a place of homecoming. This is your home and my home. You are always welcome here. This is where you belong. We want it to be a space for you to call your own, a space in which you will be welcome at any time; a space in which you can be alone, maybe light a candle as we shall being doing in a moment. Above all the church is here to be for you all a community of love, acceptance and welcome, a place of belonging-all are included; your home.

And secondly, Jesus is inviting us to be part of the great homecoming for all people without exception. Remember the lovely story of the Prodigal Son. The father eager for his son’s return scans the horizon for any sight of his son. And then, once spotted he runs to meet him with arms outstretched and orders a feast for his homecoming. That homecoming awaits us all. Like St. Paul says, “now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face…” We are not given to know the ins and outs of that final homecoming except to know that the love of God which holds us now will never let us go. As God raised up Jesus on Easter Day so the promise is that our lives will be renewed in the mystery of God’s love.

And that is the Big Story where our small stories and the stories of our groups, families and communities find their ultimate meaning in a way of living and dying as part of what Jesus calls the ‘kingdom of God’. On this night, in this home, we say hello again knowing that we belong to one another and are connected to the deepest mystery of Divine Love. Amen.

John Towler

Assistant Priest