Monthly Archives: April 2020

Let’s plant Sequoias!

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it…

Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed…

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest. 

These are just a few lines taken from a much longer poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, © 1973 by Wendell Berry.  It made me think of the upside down world we are living in at the moment. The whole poem is a political critique of the world we normally live in, with the demand for an ever expanding standard of living no matter what the cost or who ultimately bears that cost. As followers of Jesus Christ we are challenged not to live by worldly standards.

We follow a leader who was not powerful or wealthy and has been reflected in the lives of Christian saints throughout the ages. From John Wesley’s comments about not owning “silver spoons whist there are those in want of bread”* to Pope Francis who wears a simple Soutane rather than the rich silk robes of his office. 

I particularly like the phrases about planting sequoias (the oldest sequoia is around 3,200 years old). It brings to mind the words of St. Paul, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered, but God made it grow.” (1Cor. 3:6, NIV). In the quiet moments of this lock down think about those aspects of church life you enjoy and have benefited from but were not of your making or control and give thanks. But also think about what you are planting, what kind of church will you leave to future generations? Do we need to give thanks or seek God’s forgiveness!?

God bless and stay safe,


*(In 1776  the Tax Commissioners  investigated him insisting that for a man of his income he must have silver dishes that he was not paying excise tax on. He wrote them,

“I have two silver spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate I have at present, and I shall not buy any more while so many round me want bread.”)

Good Shepherd Sunday

Today the fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The readings always come from John 10 and Psalm 23 is set for recitation. It’s an opportunity to reflect on Christ’s offering of himself for the sake of the flock and his ongoing care for His people. Many preachers use the occasion to offer their insights into the nature of the Churches pastoral ministry. Anglican ordinands are charged to set the pattern of the Good Shepherd always before them as the pattern of their calling.   In many ways the imagery is strange and counter-cultural. After all in animal husbandry good shepherds don’t lay down their lives for the sheep the sheep lay down their lives for them. In some contemporary Christian circles the term shepherding is associated with an authoritarian style which many Christians find disquieting.  

My favourite illustration for this day comes from my Uncle who was an agricultural scientist but worked on a Welsh sheep farm as a placement in his student years. He recalled carrying lambs over his shoulders in a manner often portrayed in icons and stained glass windows. His most vivid memory of these moments was of the lamb urinating down his back and inside his jacket. No doubt pastoral ministry often feels just like that and perhaps it should.  

Grace, mercy and peace,  

Peter G     

In Memoriam

We have created a new page on the Circuit website which you will see in the Menu. It is called “In Memoriam” (In Memory) and is designed to collect and remember the names of all those who have died in these strange times, and who had links with this Circuit. In these days when we are presented with faceless statistics in the media, it is good to remember the human face behind each life lost.

Please email if you have names to add.

May the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

Daily Hope – Free Telephone Service of Prayers & Hymns

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has launched a free national phone line as a simple new way to bring worship and prayer into people’s homes while church buildings are closed because of the coronavirus.

Daily Hope, which is available from today, offers music, prayers and reflections as well as full worship services from the Church of England at the end of a telephone line.
The line – which is available 24 hours a day on 0800 804 8044 – has been set up particularly with those unable to join online church services during the period of restrictions in mind.

DailyHope phoneline – 0800 804 8044

The service is supported by the Church of England nationally as well as through the Connections group based at Holy Trinity Claygate in Surrey and the Christian charity Faith in Later Life.

Although thousands of churches across the country are now running services and prayer groups online while public worship remains suspended, many people – especially older people – do not have access to the internet.

The line also recognises the impact of social distancing restrictions and self-isolation measures on those suffering from loneliness. Statistics from Age UK suggest that 49% of older people believe the TV or a pet to be their daily source of comfort and interaction. While many organisations are encouraging people to use better use of technology, ONS figures also state that 2.5 million people aged 75 and above have never used the internet.

Callers will hear a special greeting from the Archbishop before being able to choose from a range of options, including hymns, prayers, reflections and advice on COVID-19.
Options available include materials also available digitally by the Church of England’s Communications team such as Prayer During the Day and Night Prayer, updated daily, from Common Worship, and a recording of the Church of England weekly national online service.

A section called Hymn Line offers callers a small selection of hymns, updated daily. An option entitled ‘Hymns We Love’, provides a hymn and reflection and is based on an initiative by the Connections group

Archbishop Justin said:
“With many in our country on lockdown, it’s important that we support those who are feeling lonely and isolated, whatever age they are. The Daily Hope service will allow people to hear hymns, prayers and words that offer comfort and hope, especially in this Easter season. I want to urge people to spread the news about this service. If there is someone you know who is particularly struggling, give them a call and let them know about the Daily Hope. I’m going to phone a friend; will you join me?”

Carl Knightly, chief executive of Faith in Later Life, added:
“The Church must be those who offer hope to our nation at this time, and I am delighted that Faith in Later Life is able to be part of this project. We know as an organisation of the challenges for older people in our society in normal times and these are not those, so I want to add our voice to that of the Archbishop and get people sharing this number with whoever they know who would most benefit.”

Pippa Cramer, founder of Connections, said:
“At Connections we have found that well-loved hymns are a source of comfort and hope to our seniors. Hymns we Love has proved to be an accessible and popular way to explore the story and meaning behind some of our favourite hymns.”

Notes for readers

Connections – One of the largest weekly gatherings for seniors in the UK, Connections welcomes over 150 guests to Holy Trinity Church in Claygate, Surrey. Started 10 years ago by Pippa Cramer, its vision is “to create a safe and welcoming community for seniors where they can connect with each other and the church and to provide the opportunity to demonstrate and share the love of Jesus”. It reaches elderly church and non-church members, many of whom are lonely and isolated, building a community of support and friendship that has also served as a bridge into church.

Faith in Later Life seeks to inspire and equip Christians to reach, serve and empower older people through the local Church and to encourage older Christians in their faith. A key part of the Faith in Later Life mission is encouraging churches to reach older people of any faith or none in the wider community who may be isolated or lonely, and sharing the hope, love and good news of Jesus Christ.

Prayer During the Day and Night Prayer audio are available on Soundcloud and via the Church’s free Time To Pray app.

The weekly online service is available from 9am each Sunday and this, as well as the full range of national resources, can be accessed on our church online page. This is all provided by the Church of England Communications team.

PRAYER FOR THE DAY: Monday, 27 April 2020
Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Jesus Worship

As Christians we worship Jesus, that’s a given, but we need to remember that Jesus was a worshiper too. Sounds obvious, read the gospels and it is very clear that worship was a central part of the life of Jesus.

We know that Jesus went to Temple and synagogue to engage in formal acts of worship that were part and parcel of his Jewish faith. When he climbed the Temple steps to participate in the liturgy of the day, he did so surrounded by throngs of other God-honoring Jews singing their psalms of ascent; when he attended synagogue, he participated with other Jewish males (the females were behind a screen and watched the proceedings. Sorry ladies!) who each took up their role in the creeds, lectionary scripture readings, sermons, discussions, and appointed prayers.

Jewish worship was largely communal worship. The community was gathered as God’s chosen people to meet God as it fulfilled the Law. There was the sound of the greeting of friends, the chanting of the priests, the bleating of the animals poised for sacrifice, the noise and chatter of little children, the trumpet blasts, mournful prayers of those wailing their intercessions, the beggars’ cries for alms. When Jesus faithfully kept the Sabbath and the vital feast days of his heritage, he did so in community. Jesus was a worshipper as one in a crowd. True, life-affirming worship.

But there is another side to Jesus the worshiper. He also worshipped in isolation. He worshipped remotely. He had no Internet or digital screen, no laptop or tablet. When he worshipped remotely, it was remote. Private prayer times were a priority for Jesus. He sought out these times of worship. There he engaged in solitude, silence, listening, stillness. He actually frequently sought out such occasions. Sometimes it was before dawn: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35, NIV). Sometimes it was mid-afternoon: “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” (Matthew 14:23, NIV). He left the crowds; the crowds didn’t leave him. He was not alone in worship simply because there was no other option; he wasn’t alone because there was a lockdown order. He was alone intentionally. Jesus knew well the benefit—even the necessity—of one-on-one worship, face to face with God remotely.

The thing about Jesus the worshipper is this: His public worship side was nourished by his private worship side, and vice versa. Worship is not going to church or private devotions. Worship consists of going to church and one’s private prayer life. When believers come from their remote places of worship to gather as God’s chosen people to meet the Triune God, our worship is richer, deeper, truer, far more robust for having been nourished by the quiet of the desert.

Sadly in our modern busy world we feel it is OK to skip the remote bit, the daily prayer, the daily reading of the bible and simply turn up to church on Sunday. It is like joining a choir and skipping the rehearsals and only turning up for the concert. You are out of tune and time with the rest of the choir.

It may be providential that the pandemic we are experiencing coincided with the season of Lent. During Lent we embrace the opportunities provided for us in the desert. We come face to face alone with God and let God’s Spirit penetrate our protective layers to re-fashion us into the divine image of Jesus Christ. Yet as austere as the desert is, there is hope there, for we discover that the greater we identify with the suffering of our Lord, the more joyful the Alleluias on Easter.

For now, all of worship is private worship. We find ourselves exclaiming with the psalmist, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God” (Ps. 84:2, NIV). How long the yearning? How long the fainting and crying out? We don’t know for how long. Perhaps as long as it takes to understand that as it was for Jesus, the consistent rhythm of public and private worship is critical to our spiritual lives. The wonderful day of reuniting for corporate worship did not happen on Easter Day this year, but whenever it happens— May 10th, June 7th even some time in August—that will be Easter Sunday! We will feel like God’s people returning from Babylon to worship in Jerusalem: “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion…Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them.’ The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy” (Ps. 126:1-2, NIV).

On that day we will find that the greeting of friends will never be more precious, the hymns and songs never more beautiful, the sound of worship never more profound, our prayers never more full of faith. Worshiping remotely will once again be joined with worshiping together in person. We will have sung the songs of Lent and be ready to sing the song of Easter: “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed!”

God bless and stay safe,


Zoom! Circuit Service Easter Sermon

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Down through the centuries, that Easter Acclamation has rung out on Easter Day, from first dawn, to the evening light, proclaiming the end – not just of the night passed, but of darkness for ever. Death is defeated, and the Light of Christ has entered the world, never to be extinguished.

As Revd Alan explained in his recent Blog posts, we are learning to experience a little of what it is like to be living in exile, singing the songs of lament. Yet we do so with the trusting faith of the psalmist who proclaims repeatedly at the end of the lament – “Yet will I praise my Lord and my God, for he is faithful and his love is everlasting”.

Easter means that the darkness will never again take the upper hand. More soberly still, not even the death of those we love is able to separate us from the love of God. In the face of death, and through the tears of grief, we can sing as we weep, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow” and “Thine be the glory”. Easter gives us a hope that the world cannot give.

We are also learning how to be church when we can’t leave our homes. Using video conferencing platforms like Zoom or WhatsApp for staff meetings has broadened to include Bible Studies, Prayer Groups, Home Groups and Fellowship Groups. Watching live broadcasts over Facebook or YouTube includes the opportunity not just to participate but also to connect to people beyond the normal geographical boundaries.

We can’t meet to share in Holy Communion, but we can fast and pray, as Revd Alan says. We can develop a spiritual hunger for renewed fellowship. Yet we can also take bread and wine, tea, toast, cake, scones, biscuits (even jelly and ice cream!) – whatever we have to hand – and deliberately and mindfully consume them. As we do so, we can be aware that the God we worship is bigger than all our doctrines and buildings and traditions, and that this God can meet us where we are even in the simplicity of a shared family meal.

On the first Easter the old order was broken for ever. So it is for us. We will never go “back to the way we were”. We will never go back to the old normal – it will be a new normal, and it is precisely in the newness of life that we encounter God’s relentless re-creation of each new day. We are called to be co-creators with God. We are called to behold the one who says “See! I am doing a new thing!” And we are called to join in with the Missio Dei – the work and purpose of God.

That first Easter changed history. We are living in a history-making era, and future generations will look back and see how well we handled this pandemic. Will they see how the churches took charge of social care while the hospital staff took charge of medical care? Or will they ask what the churches did when they had a chance? Will they encounter the risen Christ amongst the empty Church buildings or amongst the supermarket cashiers, the shelf-fillers and the delivery drivers? 

That first Easter changed the way the world saw those first disciples. Previously they were viewed as simple, illiterate fishermen. Suddenly they were transformed into fearless preachers of a radical new gospel. This virus outbreak is already changing the way we view our lowest-paid workers, as we realise that it is them who actually hold this country together. 

Jesus turned the world upsidedown. Easter reset history. We are living through uncomfortable times and there will be no going back.

But what of tomorrow? In Luke’s Gospel, the final pages give us the story of the Road to Emmaus. The encounter with the unexpected and unrecognised Christ is one that keeps repeating. Even as we tread the weary paths around the house, shuffling between TV and kitchen and bedroom and bathroom, we can be aware, if we look, of the One who walks with us, accompanying us even in those moments when we feel most alone.

Easter changes everything. Many have locked themselves into their homes and many are afraid. But God is far, far greater than a lockdown. This Jesus appeared to the disciples when they were afraid, and when they were in lockdown.

Jesus came among them and said ‘Peace be with you’. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

The peace of the risen Christ be with you all, and with all those you love, and with all those who love you, today and always. Amen.

Easter Sunday – A quiet acclamation

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

These are the words that ring out at the beginning of our Easter Day services, but not this year, this year is very different.

When it comes to the retelling of that first Easter morning we like the image of Mary Magdalen meeting the risen Christ in the garden, surrounded by spring flowers with the light of dawn filtering through the trees, but there is another story to be told.

‘On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” ‘ (John 20:19)

If John wanted to tell of the resurrection in a time of lockdown he could not have done a better job. No romantic vision of stained-glass Jesus in the garden. No triumphalist ‘we have won’. Just a group of tired scared disciples wondering what will become of them.

Yet in the midst of them is the risen Christ. In their pain and confusion Jesus brings His peace. And John tells us they were overjoyed. He does not say they rushed out in fact they seem to stay just as they were until the time was ready to go out into the world.

In our lockdown situation we too can find Jesus in the midst of us. In our pain and confusion of these days we can know the peace of Jesus.

“Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, should die for me?” (Charles Wesley)

God bless and stay safe,