MOTHERING SUNDAY – and the Covid Lockdown First Anniversary

(You can hear this sermon in its context on Facebook Here: https://fb.watch/4dJVOFVuzp/ )

Exodus 2:1-10, John 19:25-27

Lord, open your Word to our hearts and transform them, and our hearts to your Word to receive you.  AMEN.

Mothering Sunday 2020 was the first Sunday that our Churches were closed for worship – so today is, in effect, the first anniversary of our on-line worship.

I remember on the Friday before going into St Mary’s in Fordingbridge to check that I could broadcast live to Facebook – something I’d never done before.  And posting a photo on Facebook of the set-up on the Sunday morning – my mobile phone perched precariously on top of a large pile of hymn books and cardboard boxes. 

Looking back at my notes for that Service, I remembered that we were able to announce two significant and rather bold decisions by that first Sunday – that we’d be on-line every day at 10.00, and we’d broadcast via Facebook, so that we were open to the world. 

And we’ve managed to fulfil that promise – we’ve been on-line at 10.00 every day since then – approximately 365 videos, plus all the other Services, such as early Communions, Evensongs, and Feast Days of various sorts.

And that’s alongside all the material which has gone out on the Youth, Children’s and Families Facebook page – if you’ve not explored those yet, do have a look – assemblies, Bedtime Bible Stories, Open the Book and Messy Church.

And all of these have been led by our wonderful Staff Team, and then by an increasing number of wonderful people from our congregations, who’ve learnt how to record, how to transfer videos to us, in some cases learnt how to upload themselves, who’ve been prepared to be interviewed for the Saturday Conversations, and who’ve given so much of their time and creativity to this project.  And then, behind the scenes there has been the team of editors – rather too small a team at the moment – we’re looking for more volunteers – training provided – the team of editors – Richard Farr, Jo Heath, Laura Cowdery and others have uploaded round about 750 videos in the past year.

So, as we reach this first anniversary, I want to thank all of them for all of the fantastic work they’ve done during this really difficult time.  It’s been wonderful, and, quite often enjoyable – sometimes, absolutely maddening, when a video doesn’t work properly – but a great learning journey, and I’ve really felt that we’ve been in it altogether.

And thanks, also, to all of those who have joined in on Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, via the website, and have sent such lovely (and sometimes, just helpful) comments.  Again, we’ve all been in it together.

Our Church buildings may have been closed for Worship, but the Church has certainly not been closed – in fact, we’ve been more open than ever!

And now, we’re looking to the future.  We’ll continue on-line – that’s a permanent feature of who we are.  We’ll review the appropriate level of our on-line presence in a month or so, but we are now a Hybrid Church – on-line and in Church.

The PCCs are actively considering when our Worship in Church will begin again.  Currently, the proposal is to resume our Services on April 18th, once we enter the Government’s Step 2 on the 12th, but we’ll be reviewing that in the light of infection rates locally, and other factors.  We can’t wait to get back into Church, and to begin to pick up the threads of a more normal Church Life.  Keep an eye on Partners for more news as soon as a decision is made.

We began this Mothering Sunday Service with a lovely piece of music, sung by my Keble Choir, written by the Welsh composer, William Mathias, who died in 1992, and using the words of the late fourteenth-century hermitess, Julian of Norwich – she’s named after the Church of St Julian in Norwich, where she was immured, walled in, for many years.

She wrote in her book called ‘Revelations of Divine Love’, only rediscovered in the last century:

As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother.  In our Father, God Almighty, we have our being; In our merciful Mother we are remade and restored. Our fragmented lives are knit together. 

And by giving and yielding ourselves, through grace,
to the Holy Spirit we are made whole.  It is I, the strength and goodness of Fatherhood.  It is I, the wisdom of Motherhood.  It is I, the light and grace of holy love.  It is I, the Trinity.

And she ends with perhaps her most famous words:

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

You’ll have the opportunity to hear the piece again at the end of the Service – I’ll just warn you that it lasts about 6 minutes, so don’t feel obliged to stay for all of it if you’re desperate for your coffee by then!

‘As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is he our Mother’.  That seems like a very modern insight, but she is, in the 1380s, reflecting on the Fatherhood and Motherhood of God.

And so, our Mothering Sunday reflections should always begin with God.  God, our Mother and Father.  As we shall sing in our final hymn this morning, again, using words based on Mother Julian, ‘Mothering God… Mothering Christ… Mothering Spirit…’.  God creates us, loves us, nurtures us, keeps us and redeems us – he Mothers us as well as Fathers us.  Mothering Sunday begins with God.

We then reflect, as in our Gospel Reading a few moments ago, on Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  A week on Wednesday we shall keep the Feast of the Annunciation, when Mary accepted God’s will that she should be the mother of his only son, Jesus.  We’ve recently heard the Christmas story, and Mary’s part in all the complications of that, and then the Presentation in the Temple, when Mary was promised that a sword would pierce her own heart.  We know the stories of Mary at Cana of Galilee, when she provoked Jesus into his first miracle.  We see how the family were worried about him, really about his mental state, provoking his statement, sounding harsher than it was meant, I think, ‘Who is my Mother, my Father, my brothers and sisters?  All those who do the will of God’.

And today, in our Gospel, she is at the foot of the Cross, receiving the Beloved Disciple, usually thought of as being St John, as her son, and his receiving her to be his mother.  After the Gospels, we hear of Mary once more, as part of the Early Church, and then she disappears into history and the life of the Church.

Mary reminds us of the joys and sorrows, the love and the pain, of motherhood.

And we also reflect on the Mother Church, the way in which the Church should love us and nurture us for our daily living.  We might want to give thanks for those people and those Churches who have nurtured us in our faith, who have been with us on the journey, who’ve helped us to become the people we are today.

And we might also want to pray for our Avon Valley Churches here, not just the buildings, but the people who make the buildings the Church – pray for us all as we move from on-line to in Church, for those making decisions about our physical safety and well-being, as well as our spiritual needs.

And, of course, Mothering Sunday is the day we remember and celebrate our own mothers.  Mothering Sunday is for everyone who has a mother!

We give thanks for being brought into the world, for the nurture and guidance of our mothers, for all that they did in creating all that was and is good about our family life.

It’s interesting that the Gospel Reading we’re given for Mothering Sunday is not only about Jesus and his mother, but also about the new family Jesus created – Mary and John.

And so we remember that families come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – adopted parenting, same-sex couples parenting, fostering, grandparents acting as parents, and all the informal ways in which mothering goes on, and has always gone on, outside the traditional idea of family as mother, father and two children.

We give thanks for our own mothers, but also give thanks for all the ways in which motherly love is shown.

And we may need to offer to God the painful aspects of mothering – perhaps our own mothers were not naturally the parenting sort; perhaps we have regrets about the way we cared for our own children; perhaps we would have loved to be a mother, and it hasn’t happened.

Wherever you are on this spectrum, give thanks to God for his mothering of us; remember Mary, and her example of the joys and sorrows of mothering; give thanks for the Churches and faithful people who have nurtured you, and offer any painful memories to God; remember your own families, giving thanks for all that is good, offering to God all that is painful, or needs his healing; and, most of all, remember that God is our Mother, as well as our Father, and that God’s love for each one of us is the basis for all of our human love.  ‘God is love, and those who live in love, live in God, and he in them’ [I Jn 4:16].

And, finally, remember the wonderful words of Mother Julian of Norwich, which we’ll hear in a very simple round I wrote a few years ago. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

The Joy of Prayer Colours and Doodles Monday, February 22nd, 8-9pm

The Joy of Prayer is an occasional online series designed especially for those who find prayer dull, boring, frustrating or guilt-inducing.   In this second session we’ll experiment with the use of colour in reflection and prayer – and we’ll try Bible-doodling.   No artistic ability required – just a willingness to have a go, and to reflect on your experience afterwards.   Led – on Zoom – by the Revd Sally Dakin, Spirituality Adviser   Enquires to sally.dakin@winchester.anglican.org Bookings to wendy.atkinson@winchester.anglican.org

Bishop’s Permission to Preach


The Diocese will soon be opening for applications for the Bishop’s Permission to Preach (BPP) programme for 2021-2022, which starts in September 2021. If this is something you are interested in, you might like to prayerfully consider the following information. Application dates and information about the process will be available in the next month or so.
People trained through the BPP programme are able to preach on a regular basis at the discretion of their incumbent.  The qualification recognises their calling to this ministry and is affirmed by the Bishop of Winchester.   You will need to have a love for God’s word and a desire to build up God’s people through teaching and preaching.  All applicants will need to have the recommendation of their incumbent to take this training.   We have an online open information evening later in the Spring, for those who are interested in finding out more.  We will explain the details of the course, the expectations upon you, and there will be an opportunity to hear from someone who took BPP last year.  There will also be plenty of time to ask your own questions to help you decide whether BPP is for you.   Please note there are limited places on this programme and a selection process is in place.   If you have any questions please contact Wendy Atkinson: wendy.atkinson@winchester.anglican.org

An Epiphany Message from the Dean of Winchester Cathedral, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’” 

M. Louise Haskins

Dear brothers and sisters,

At this time last year, COVID-19 was something few of us had heard about and was a very long way away.  We simply didn’t have any idea of what we were going to face during 2020.  But an unknown threat became a familiar part of daily life as the tiny virus swept across the world.  Our lives were turned inside out and upside down in some way or another.

Now, many of us have spent Christmas separated from loved ones, perhaps for the first time ever.  Others have worked throughout in essential services and are weary.  Some of us have lost employment and, sadly, some of us are bereaved.  Many of us enter a new year with anxiety, loneliness or frustration.  I have the sense that most of us are ‘walking wounded’.

As we begin this New Year, the church celebrates the Feast of Epiphany and the journey of the Wise Men to the Christ child.  Until now, the Nativity scene has been Mary and Joseph and the baby with the shepherds, representing the local people who recognised God’s great gift. The Nativity scene has animals, angels and the star representing the response of the whole of creation. Now, with Epiphany and the coming of the Wise Men we see each continent, and therefore the whole of humanity, represented at the stable.  

This year, the gifts that the Wise Men bring have a particular meaning for me.

Gold represents all that is precious in life. Perhaps this is a time to reassess what is most important to us.  Faith teaches that true glory is found in patterning our lives after the example of Jesus in loving service, and seeking God in one another and our everyday lives. Love is what is precious. 

Frankincense represents prayer, the longings of our hearts, both those that we can articulate and those that remain unspoken. God knows the secrets of our hearts and our hopes and fears.  This is the time to pray, because when we pray, we begin to cooperate with God who transforms lives and communities. Faith transforms daily life.

Myrrh represents ointment for healing. Out of so much suffering and loss in the past year, humanity has been connected in its common vulnerability and common cause. We have glimpsed a different future where we work together for the good of all, the healing of the nations and the planet. Hope transforms the world.  

We don’t know what the future holds but we have faith, hope and love. The advice of the man who stood at the gate of the year is this:

‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’  

I do hope that, whatever your circumstances, you will know the comfort and energy of God’s daily presence. I hope that this New Year will bring love, healing and a new sense of faith and hope for us all.  I close with an audaciously hopeful prayer, written for New Year 2000 from Churches Together in England:

Blessed Lord Jesus, let there be: respect for the earth, peace for its people, love in our lives, delight in the good, forgiveness for past wrongs, and from now on a new start. Amen.

With blessings and best wishes

The Very Revd Catherine Ogle

Dean of Winchester

HOPE IN DIFFICULT TIMES

A message from the Rector, originally written for the Sandleheath Newsletter.

A rather belated Happy New Year to all. 

I’m writing after Christmas, but still in the Season of Epiphany – a season which begins with the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem, but soon leaves the infant Jesus behind, and moves on to the bigger picture.  The Sunday after Epiphany is the Feast of the Baptism of Christ – within a week we have moved from the birth of Jesus to him adult ministry. 

Other Advent themes include the Wedding at Cana, where John tells us that Jesus performed him ‘first sign’ by changing water into wine – a very substantial quantity of it – gallons and gallons!  What does that say about God’s generosity?

Then we reflect on the calling of the first Disciples, and on how God might be calling us in this difficult time.  Perhaps to care for family, neighbours, friends; perhaps by phoning, or shopping, or dog-walking, or other practical things; perhaps simply to pray more, to spend more time consciously in God’s presence; or, perhaps to be involved in some sort of ministry, either within the Church or in the secular world?  I am surprised and delighted by how many people have reflected on their lives during this time of enforced isolation and separation, and feel called as lay ministers, or worship leaders, or ordained ministers.

Looking back to Christmas, in spite of all the difficulties and oddities, it was a good time of celebration in many ways.  The highlights were, I think, the Open Air Carols in all four AVC Parishes, which were all great occasions – they were the only things which had a degree of normality about them.

Now, we look as if we are moving into a time of great Lockdown, as this new strain of the virus takes hold, just as the vaccination programme is beginning, with all the hope that that was bringing.

Moving from tier 3 to 4 doesn’t affect the regulations for worship, but it does change the perceptions of the risks for us all.

As I’ve continually said, no one should be feeling obliged to do anything they feel uncomfortable with.  On the other hand, I’m aware that there are those for whom coming to Services in Church is very important for them.

Having spoken with the AVC STaff Team, and seen e-mails from Wardens of the AVC Churches and others, we have decided that across the AVC we should have some Services in Church, but mainly be on-line. 

There is a great deal of worship offered on-line, and people have much to choose from.

If you’d like to join the AVC, we are on-line every day at 10.00 on Facebook, often live on YouTube as well – or Services are posted there afterwards.  You can access Facebook directly, or via our website.  The address for all of these is AvonValleyChurches.

We also have a phone line, 01425 543305, on which people can hear live Services and catch up – it’s probably easiest to put your phone on to ‘speaker’, and the call charges are the same as for any local call.

For those who wish to meet in Church, we’ll have one or two Services in Church each Sunday, as we did during the late summer – please see Partners for details – you can find that here on the AvonValleyChurches website, and have it by e-mail each week.

It looks as if this latest Lockdown (pretty much!) is likely to last a few weeks or more, so we’ve decided to do Lent on-line this year.  From the 17th February, Ash Wednesday, we’ll be running a Lent Course based on the wonder film, the Greatest Showman.  It’s called ‘From Now On: A Lent Course on Hope and Redemption’.  Anyone on-line can join in, and we’ll find ways of offering to those not on-line as well.  Full details to follow.

We have some difficult weeks ahead of us, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, with the new vaccine being rolled out, and so we just have to wait in hope.

 As Peter Sills wrote in the Church Times recently:

VÁCLAV HAVEL, the Czech poet and first president of post-Soviet Czechoslovakia, said: ‘Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out’.   This is the quality of Christian hope.  Our hope is not a refusal to face the facts of the world, dreaming of an ideal society, but a belief — in the face of those facts — that a better world is possible and worth striving for.

Do make an effort to find ways of enjoying this season of Epiphany, and then getting ready for Lent.  And do search the Scriptures, and keep an eye open in your daily lives, for signs of hope – like the seeds and bulbs under the ground, already getting ready to burst open in the spring, so the signs of the Kingdom of God are all around us, if only we have eyes to see.

Blessings to you all.

Canon Gary Philbrick

Rector.