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Parish magazine for July

Prayer for Today

I am only one

I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
What I can do, I ought to do,
And what I ought to do, by the grace of God I will do.
– Anon


‘There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance : pray you, love, remember : and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines : there’s rue for you : and here’s some for me : we may call it herb of grace o’ Sundays : O, you must wear your rue with a difference.  There’s a daisy : I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died……’ (Hamlet, Act IV Scene V)

That, of course, is a well-known speech by Ophelia, talking to her brother Laertes, after the poor girl had been driven insane by the mistaken killing of their father Polonius by Hamlet!

Now, on a hopefully sane note, during lockdown a small group of us at church have been exchanging regular ‘keeping in touch’ emails.  Just mundane stuff about everyday life in lockdown; how we are feeling, what we have been doing – or not doing, as the case may be, any news stories – and often expressed in humorous ways.  Gardens and gardening have been a frequent theme – particularly for two of the households involved, and so we have been thinking a lot about plants.

In my own case, it has struck me how very many of the things Sue and I grow in our garden have significance or meaning.  These plants often evoke memories of experiences we have had or places we have travelled to – and that is especially true of those plants with fragrances.

Herbs are an obvious example, and our pot of basil for instance makes us feel that we are back in a Benedictine Abbey high in the hills of southern Tuscany, where basil grows openly in abundance, its scent pervading the air.  And then there’s the Jasmine, which takes us back to a holiday in Tunisia and the gardens of our hotel where the evenings were heady with the intoxicatingly rich perfume of night scented jasmine……. 

We have never been to the lavender fields of Provence – or even those in Norfolk, but our own two lovely lavender bushes remind us of small scale commercial lavender growers we have visited in Kent.  In a recent piece in the Radio Times by Joe Swift, one of the Gardeners’ World presenters, we read:

‘The combination of grey-green aromatic foliage and lasting flower spikes makes lavender a winner for both human and bee.  The name is said to derive from the Latin lavare, to wash, and the oil has been used for centuries in soap, as an essential oil and as a relaxant.  Lavenders make fabulous garden plants.  They’re evergreen (or should it be evergrey?) with a fine, rounded form, and come in a wide range of sizes, with flowers in shades of classic purple, through pinks and blues to whites….’

And I remember, some years ago now, when the diocesan newspaper ‘The Bridge’ printed a front-page photograph of our Jubilate children’s choir, in their purple choir robes, the caption was A bunch of Lavender!’

Then, of course, there are the roses, with an abundance of associations in our memories.

And as for the marvellous scent of rosemary itself, it takes me all over the place, from Sissinghurst Castle to all around the Mediterranean and beyond!

I could get carried away and go on and on in this vein, but I’m sure that you’ve got the picture by now! Plants of various kinds have meaning, significance, symbolism.

And did you know that the Bible refers to more than 100 species of plant by name?  As sources of food including staple crops – cereals, beans, lentils, date palm, vine, olive and so on; as medicines and perfumes– frankincense and myrrh, hyssop for example; as building materials – trees of course, and as symbols  - palm as an emblem of victory, vine representing peace and prosperity, olive branch as a sign of peace.  Trees for instance, were a symbol of strength, and the cedar of Lebanon is mentioned more than 70 times in biblical passages.  Not a lot of people know that!

Even more interesting is that the tree that Zacchaeus climbed to get a better view of Jesus (Luke 19:4) was a type of fig tree: ‘a sycamore-fig tree.  A sturdy tree from 30 to 40 feet high, with a short trunk and spreading branches capable of holding a grown man (see note on Amos 7:14)’ I got that last fact from the New International Version Study Bible!

In fact, the more I start to research this I am realising that I could write a whole dissertation on plants and symbols in the Bible! Indeed, one of the books I have looked at, John Bowker’s  The Complete Bible Handbook, which I see that I’ve had for 21 years, has sufficient material in itself on just two pages on which to base a good start!

And there’s a lovely children’s book, The Tale of Three Trees, based on a traditional American folk tale.  It begins, ‘Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to be when they grew up…..’ In reality, one was used to make the manger which was to become the crib where baby Jesus was laid; the second was made to build the fishing boat in which Jesus stilled the storm, and the third was used to make the Cross of Calvary. The story is very symbolic, and beautifully told - I have used it quite a lot with children over the years.

Anyway, back to Scripture itself!  Jesus’ society was an agricultural one, and he used plants a lot in his parables – such as that of the sower, the fig tree as a herald of Summer – and the other one that didn’t bear fruit, the mustard seed, the labourers in the vineyard, wheat and tares. And the one about the growing seed (Mark 4 : 26-29) on which is based the harvest hymn We plough the Fields and Scatter.

I don’t propose to go on and on, and really just want us to ponder one idea.  We are all living through the pandemic and experiencing its effects in similar or different ways – We might ‘all be in this together’, but we are certainly not ‘all in the same boat!’  Some of us will have found these times frustrating, tragic, sad, life-changing; many are frightened; NHS and other key workers are exhausted.  Others of us have felt liberated from pressure and stress and have found opportunities we have never had time for before. Have made new discoveries, developed new talents.  Most of us have missed close human contact, including physical contact  particularly with family and friends.

We are told that during the Covid-19 crisis, nature and the environment have flourished as a result of the diminished activity of humankind, and resulting reduction in pollution levels.

Most of all, let’s hope that we have all learned something.  And so, following the theme of what I have written, I wonder if we can consider what part of nature – particularly the world of plants, might symbolise these times for us?  Might it be the bitter herbs (eg endive, chicory) of the Passover story in Exodus?  The sprig of olive – symbol of hope and renewal, which the dove brought back to the Ark in Genesis?  The food boxes of fresh produce made up and given to those who needed it?  My neighbour who has generously baked and given us delicious loaves of bread on a regular basis?  The fruit of human kindness?  The ripening fruit or vegetables coming to maturity in your own garden – if you are lucky enough to have one?  Rosemary for remembrance, so that when this is all over, we never forget what we have learned about each other and about the world we live in and share?  And make it a better place.


Fr Derek

The Ven John Barton writes in praise of our health service.

The NHS – bearing one another’s burdens

‘Save the NHS’ was the slogan chosen by the British government when the coronavirus began to spread.  Meant to evoke public compassion, and compliance with emergency regulations, it sounded as though the NHS was an endangered species.  In fact it was the public themselves whose lives were in jeopardy; the National Health Service existed solely for their benefit.  The slogan did manage to stir gratitude for a service which had been taken for granted, as well as appreciation of its 1.5+ million staff, many of whom were now putting their own lives at greater risk.

The idea for a countrywide medical service came from the Beveridge Report, instigated by the coalition government during World War II.  “Medical treatment covering all requirements will be provided for all citizens by a national health service”, is how it was defined, though it had to wait until 1948 for its implementation to begin.

It was part of a programme for reconstruction, aiming to eliminate Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.  Sir William Beveridge, who gave his name to the report, was close friends with two other social reformers: R H Tawney, and William Temple, who was to become Archbishop of Canterbury.  Today’s Archbishop, Justin Welby, wrote this about the trio: “Drawing on Christian understandings of justice, generosity and human dignity, they described the kind of country that they felt reflected God’s values better.”

St Paul couldn’t have thought he was providing a slogan for a welfare state when he wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”, but that is a neat summary of the way the National Health Service works.  We all pay in when we can and we all benefit when we need.

One estimate of the cost of the NHS today is £158.4 billion, which in real terms is 10 times as much as in 1950. In the meantime, it’s no longer completely free for all.  Prescription charges and dental fees have been introduced.  The development of ever-more sophisticated life-saving drugs and medical procedures will inevitably mean higher costs – and a heightened moral dilemma.  Must there be further limits to the provision of “medical treatment covering all requirements”?

The colossal task of rebuilding a shattered economy in the years to come may compel the British people to choose between what is essential and what is optional.  The Christian principle now sounds particularly demanding: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”.

Beware the spell-checker on your special service sheets!


The Rectory
St James the Least

My dear Nephew Darren

When producing material for your magazine or church services, beware the computer spell-checker.  We once let our own system check a Christmas carol sheet and, on the night, found ourselves obliged to sing “away in a manager”, mangers apparently being unknown to our machine.

If you use special sheets regularly, it seems a law of nature – as with metal coat hangers – that they all intermingle while no one is watching.  Thus, on Easter Day, half the congregation will have been issued with sheets for Harvest, which will only become obvious once the service begins.  The first hymn will be entirely lost while sidesmen scuttle about looking for replacements only to find that there won’t be enough of them anyway and then the second hymn will be lost while others helpfully wander about church donating their sheets to those looking helpless and then trying to find someone to share with.

Never, ever, print on them ‘Do not take home’ as this will only ensure everyone does so. I have sometimes wondered if the instruction ‘Take this sheet home for reference’ would ensure that they stayed neatly arranged in the pews after the service.  And if it is a service where babies are likely to be present, be assured that many of the copies will be returned half chewed and coated with bits of whatever the infant had for breakfast.  There must be a market for paper treated with a child-repellent flavour for such occasions.

Anyone who thinks we are an unimaginative nation should visit a church after a special service to see how many places members of congregations can invent to hide the booklets: under kneelers, neatly folded and hidden inside hymn books, among flower arrangements and behind heating pipes so that no one can quite reach them.  They then lurk there reproachfully for the next ten years until mice solve the problem.

No, stick to large, hard bound books.  They are resistant to teeth and are too substantial to be hidden in pockets.  Their only drawback is that they tend to fall victim to the pull of gravity at the quietest moments.

Your loving uncle,


‘Safe spaces’ in Boots

Boots has become one of the first high street stores to create ‘safe spaces’ to help victims of domestic abuse who need help during the coronavirus lockdown.

The pharmacy chain, which is the biggest retailer of its kind in the UK, has opened consultation rooms in its 2,400 high street stores.  People who have been unable to seek help while trapped at home with an abusive partner can access these ‘safe space’ rooms.

There they will find posters providing the phone numbers of the key support services, as well as helplines whom they can call without fear of their abuser eavesdropping on them.

Tidal wave of sales coming

“This summer will be an absolute bonanza for shoppers, and they should be selective and patient… discounting will continue throughout the summer.”  So says Clive Black, a retail analyst at Shore Capital.

He explains that billions of pounds of winter stock is coming over to the UK in ships, but the retail warehouses are still full of unsold summer stock… “The magnitude of what has happened has never been seen in modern times.”

No wonder, then, that some analysts predict that shops will offer up to 70 per cent off throughout July, August and September.

The Frailty of Life

According to one survey, during the lockdown, a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service and one in 20 have started praying.  While the majority of people who contract Covid‑19 survive, it reminds us that we are much more frail and weak than we like to think.  As the prophet Isaiah says:

‘All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures for ever.’ (Isaiah 40:6-8).

Isaiah’s words really resonate at this time. In more normal times we can avoid facing up to our vulnerability, but this pandemic has forced us to recognise our weakness and fragility.

However, this shouldn’t lead us to despair or fear; rather it is an opportunity to worship and praise for His constancy and care. In Peter’s first letter he quotes this passage from Isaiah and says, ‘For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23). Peter contrasts our mortality with the eternal Word of God, which bring us new birth and life through the power of the Spirit.  Jesus died for our sins and rose again to make us right with God, so that trough faith in Him we can know eternal life.  We don’t need to be afraid of our frailty, for God is a dependable foundation on which to build our lives and face eternity.

‘We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree.  And wither and perish, but nought changeth Thee.’ (Immortal, invisible, Walter C Smith).

Our Daily Bread

Give us we pray
The bread we need today
Or, Lord, at least
Provide us with some yeast!

We’ll feast our eyes
To see the yeast-dough rise
No fun we lack
When we then knock it back.

Once more it proves,
Then to the oven moves
And then we haste
That nice fresh bread to taste!

By Nigel Beeton

Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE, considers the effect of coronavirus on our lives.

Local is back!

Odd things have been happening to my world in these past weeks of lockdown.

It’s got bigger.  I’ve been speaking regularly via the web with friends in Australia and the United States. Worshippers from Canada and South Africa are taking part in our online church services. Other churches are telling the same stories, with increasing numbers of people logging on.

It’s got smaller.  Even with the relaxation of regulations, many people are still working from home, home-schooling and mostly exercising within walking or cycling distance from where they live.

It’s got faster.  Arrangements for a funeral in my family were speeded up, with registration and funeral planning carried out over the phone.  A doctor’s appointment by telephone significantly cut down waiting time.

It’s got slower.  Shopping takes longer with queues that people would have complained about before the lockdown.  The shops have done a great job to keep the shelves stocked and maintain social distancing.

I’ve been thinking about what the long-term impact of the Covid‑19 lockdown might be.  One of the key outcomes is that local is back.

For decades, we’ve been hearing about globalization, and how the world is a much more connected place.  It is, and the internet has kept many vital businesses running these past weeks.

But we’ve also come to value what’s on our doorstep and in our local streets.

Neighbours have become more important.  We’re valuing local shops, pubs and restaurants, parks and open spaces.  All the people working hard to keep local services going.

Christianity is now a major global religion, with billions of followers around the world.  But it began local. It began with Jesus Christ, travelling by foot, preaching and healing around a small area of the middle east.  From its local roots, the faith spread around the world.

Today, churches around the world are deeply rooted in their local communities and are seeking to follow Christ’s example of love and caring.

Each of us is rooted into our family, into our key relationships and into where we live.

During this pandemic, each of these has grown in importance.

Peter Crumpler is a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts, and a former communications director for the CofE.

Smile Lines

Coronavirus:  For the first time in history, we can help save the human race by lying in front of the TV and doing nothing.  Let’s not mess this one up!

* * *

The queue

While waiting in a socially distanced queue early one morning for the supermarket to open for us ‘seniors’, I was surprised to see a young man saunter along and try to cut in at the front of the queue.  A furious old lady waved her cane at him, and he quickly backed away.

A moment later, the young man tried again.  He managed to dodge the old lady, but then two old men started shouting at him.  Again, the young man backed away.

But he wasn’t giving up, and soon the young man approached the queue for the third time.  By now, all of us pensioners were ready for him, an angry wall of opposition.

The young man stood there for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders.  “If you people won’t let me unlock the door, none of you will ever get in to shop.”

* * *

I need to practice social-distancing – from my refrigerator.