Our Churches are Open – And You’re Invited!

All Saints Necton

I’m delighted to be able to say that our churches will be open from the first Sunday in May (2nd) and you are all warmly invited. It can be difficult to explain to people who don’t come to church why those of us who do find it so immensely valuable and rewarding – after all it’s not a perfect institution and neither are we, the people who attend, and yet despite its weaknesses and imperfections it provides us all with a sense of common faith and community which can be very warm, very uplifting, very engaging and supportive, even in the most difficult and darkest of times.

St Andrew’s Holme Hale

The church of course is a ‘religious institution’ but it is also so much more than this – it is a family, a fellowship and a community of faith built around the concept that we are all children of a loving God, who despite our failings demonstrates his loving concern through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Perhaps these ‘religious phrases’ are a mystery to those who have no concept of them or don’t really understand their significance, but faith comes from hearing, which leads to understanding – maybe not all at once, but over a period of time, perhaps by hearing a bible passage being read, a sermon being proclaimed, a prayer being uttered, a song being sung, a liturgical phrase being said, a conversation with a Christian friend or a quiet moment of contemplation. In our busy, modern, chaotic world, many people just don’t give themselves this opportunity when in fact, it may be the very thing that helps to lift and sustain them.

St Andrew’s North Pickenham

During the past year, the coronavirus has had a huge impact upon us, and many folk have either lost loved ones, or experienced a change in their circumstances. Thankfully, as we come out of lockdown it looks like things may be getting back to normal, but what sort of normal do we want? Today is a perfect moment for us to think, reflect and reset our lives, and who knows? Maybe a visit to church will help you to do that!

During the past year, many of us have benefitted from our online services and prayer meetings, but they are no substitute for the loving fellowship that we experience when we come together, and we would be delighted if you would join us!

(But please bring a mask!)


The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. Psalm 28.7


Easter – A New Day Dawning!


There is no doubt that this past year has been a very difficult time for us all, and for those who have sadly lost loved ones it will be a year which they will never forget. Although no one would pretend that the government has got everything right when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s roll out of the vaccination program with nearly 25 million people receiving their 1st dose of the vaccine as I write this letter, has been well received and applauded. This wonderful progress gives us all a sense of hope, that there is indeed ‘light at the end of tunnel’ and that hopefully one day soon our lives will be more like normal. Which is why the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in at least 13 countries across Europe seems strange. Fears that the vaccine may cause blood clots has prompted the EU to follow ‘the cautious principle’ and restricts its distribution until they are confident that it is safe to do so, despite the fact that both the World Health Organisation and indeed Europe’s own European Medicines Agency has consistently said that there is no evidence that the AstraZenica vaccine is unsafe, and with only 40 suspected cases of blood clotting being reported out of a distribution pool of 17 million, the rate is less than that you might expect to find in the population generally. With many scientists feeling baffled as this development, the general conclusion is that this move is more politically motivated than data driven.

But of course, any delay in vaccine distribution has the potential to sadly cause more suffering and death.  

However, this sense of jumping to a conclusion without due consideration of the evidence is precisely how many people behave when it comes to thinking about Easter. They like the trappings of being with family and friends (in normal times) as we move into Spring and the Easter holidays, complete with chocolate treats and Easter eggs, but they don’t give any more serious thought to the significance of Easter than they do the ‘Easter bunny’!  But this is a shame, because, if they were to really consider the Easter story, and contemplate the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, They would discover that not only is there a compelling case for Jesus to be the Son of God and the Saviour of the World, where the ‘facts’ speak for themselves, but the debate is much more significant, lively and robust that they would imagine. In fact, it’s life changing and life-giving! For you see, at the heart of the Christian gospel is the ‘Easter story’ which brings light into the darkness, life over death, and hope where there is despair. For many it would seem ludicrous to pass over the hope of a life-giving vaccine simply because one had been failed to give due weight to the evidence or come to it with some form of unfounded prejudice. It’s my hope that you won’t treat the Gospel story with the same distain, but allow a new day to dawn in your heart as you consider the evidence, ask all the right questions and come to it fresh and with an open mind.   

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Easter.


Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. John 20.8

Will the Church Survive the Coronavirus Challenge?

The challenges of the past year have indeed been heavy and obvious – apart from the terrible loss of life caused by the coronavirus and the pain felt by grief-stricken families, we are all aware of the immense stresses and strains that have been placed upon other sectors of society, ranging from the NHS and schools, and through to the economy. But recently people’s thoughts and attention were directed by various news articles and items to the state of ‘the church’. This is because the church, like the rest of society, was strongly encouraged to ‘stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.’ With a natural concern for their communities and indeed their congregations, many of whom are elderly and vulnerable, the church wanted to do the right thing and protect its members. Unfortunately, this meant that the public ‘face’ of the church was strongly curtailed, as many churches felt obliged to close their churches for public worship, and numbers for weddings and funerals were heavily restricted. In many ways this posed a serious challenge, as many usual church activities, home, fellowship & prayer groups, lunch clubs and school activities came to a halt, and along with it all the usual fund-raising activities. However, surprisingly, for churches here within the Necton Benefice, we have managed to provide a pre-recorded online service every week since last March which has been very well received, with folk who aren’t online able to request a DVD or audio CD. Parochial Church Council meetings have continued via Zoom, and most wonderfully people have continued to meet, support and pray with and for each other and their communities weekly by Zoom since last March, which has been a great source of fellowship and encouragement.  However, churches across the benefice have seen a drop in their financial income because of the pandemic, and this is true both at diocesan and national levels as well, leading to press speculation that the church is in decline and will find it hard to survive post pandemic. When articles such as the one that appeared in the Church Times (4th December 2020) report that Chelmsford Diocese had formally proposed to cut 61 stipendiary clergy post by the end of this year, it is clear that the national Church is having to ask itself some difficult questions, prompting The Spectator (6th February 2021) to ask whether the Church of England would become a ‘Holy Relic’ post-pandemic.  This led to a spirited response by both the Archbishops of Canterbury and York (Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell) in the next issue, who whilst acknowledging the financial difficulties of the current situation, rightly reminded the reader how its priests have buried the dead, comforted the bereaved and both prayerfully and pastorally supported families throughout this pandemic. Yes, the times are changing, and no doubt the parochial system as we have known it will have to change too, and some stipendiary posts will be lost, but the church is not dead, nor dying. There have been more people turning to God and finding faith in Jesus Christ than ever before. “This year, we have seen the biggest rise in ordained and lay vocations for a quarter of a century,” the Archbishops said – which of course neatly reminds us of the church’s greatest asset and ‘not so secret weapon’ which is of course it’s laity. The church is not a building or even a collection of buildings – it’s people, a people who together do not simply put their faith in mere structures or some lauded institution, but in God and his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.    

So, will the church survive the coronavirus challenge? Yes, of course by the grace of God and with your help!

“I long to see you … so that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Romans 1.11-12


Christmas lights, Candle Arches, Comfort and Joy

This year, Christmas is going to look and feel very different to others. Although the vast majority of us will no doubt do our best to enjoy the festivities (especially now that university students will be able to return home), for some it will be a sad and painful experience as they contemplate Christmas without loved ones who have sadly died during the year because of the coronavirus or other associated issues. Which is why the Church of England’s Christmas campaign ‘Comfort and Joy’ is so aptly named, because although the title comes from the traditional Christmas carol ‘God rest ye merry gentlemen’, its essence is to be found in the Bible which speaks of a God who so loved the world that he was prepared to step into it, in the person of Jesus Christ. The baby born at Bethlehem was therefore God’s one true light, ‘the light of the world’ (John 8.12) who shines not only into the darkness of our world, but also our hearts and minds, and brings us life – life in all its fulness (John 10.10). This comes as no real surprise to the believer because as John so wonderfully reminds us in his Gospel, ‘in him was life and that life was the light of men’ (John 1.4). The nativity story therefore reminds us that however dark the world might be, God still loves and cares for us. It is this knowledge that the Bible describes as good news and which provides us with so much ‘comfort, hope and joy’ as we celebrate the fact that in Christ, God is with us.

The ancient Jew also believed that God was with them, for deep within the Temple there was the menorah, a golden lamp with seven branches which burned oil from evening to morning. Although several of the outer branches were allowed to burn out, the central branch was always kept alight as a symbol of God’s presence.

I know that many people like to celebrate Christmas by decorating their houses with Christmas lights and decorations, but in this most particular, peculiar and stressful of years, I would like to encourage as many people as possible to place a ‘candle arch’ in their windows, as a little act of prayer and blessing for their neighbours, families and friends, to remind us all that although this Christmas period may be different – the meaning of Christmas is still the same – that God is with us.

May I take this opportunity on behalf of my family and the parishes I represent, to wish you all a very Happy Christmas (full of comfort and joy) and a peaceful (coronavirus free) New Year.



“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” Luke 2.14

Are We Contributing To Our Own Extinction?

During September many viewers were left stunned having watched Sir David Attenborough’s latest television documentary Extinction: The Facts with the broadcast on the BBC deliberately timed to give publicity to the urgent report published by the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity a few days later. This report concluded that “humanity is at a crossroads and we have to take action now to make space for nature to recover and slow it’s ‘accelerating decline’.” Indeed, Sir David Attenborough warned that “we are facing a crisis – and one that has consequences for us all.” Not only did one expert state that of the eight million species on Earth, a million are now threatened with extinction, but the links between nature and the environment and our own future physical wellbeing were made abundantly clear. Alongside the familiar concerns of climate change, intensive farming and industrial scale encroachment upon the natural order by humans ravaging and plundering it’s natural resources, seas, forests, land etc, and polluting the environment – a stunning (and some would say somewhat controversial) link was made between the ever increasing ‘close contact’ of humans to animals resulting in the transmission of viruses from one species to another, leading to an increased likelihood of pandemics across the world, such as SARs, MERs, Ebola and the coronavirus Covid-19.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the convention’s executive secretary stated that “Things have to change. It is land. It is forest. It is agriculture. It is the ocean. It is pollution. So we need to change our production patterns, our consumption patterns. The choices of the food we eat, human encroachment in the wildlife, into the forest. So these need to change”.

The problem is that for so long we have viewed the earth as our domain, a simple resource to reap and plunder as we see fit. We have forgotten that first and foremost the Earth is not a resource but a gift! And it is not ours alone, but a gift for all generations. For so long we believed that there was enough food in the world to feed all it’s people, if only we could share it more equitably – but we underestimated the profit motive, the rapid advance of technology and the expansion of populations. Now we are struggling to feed the world and live sustainably. We are damaging the world and in a whole manner of different ways we are risking our collective futures. The time has come for change!

In his book Renewing the face of the Earth, David Atkinson reminds the Christian that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24.1) and that we have a royal calling to serve and protect it for the good of all, whether it be by our political involvement or personal living. We can hold governments and large organisations to account by the choices we make at the ballot box, the cash till and through the charities we support. Together as individuals and as communities we can make a difference! But this will require us to think and act generously in the best interests of others, and often sacrificially for ourselves, which mirrors the love of God for us in the person of Christ. Atkinson thinks it is not by accident that the Church’s Holy Communion service reminds the recipient that they are called to be ‘living sacrifices’ as they go out into the world, living generous and unselfish lives – which is in fact, is a sentiment that many of us could adopt if we wish to continue to live in a just, caring and sustainable world which does all that it can to preserve the environment, protect our biological diversity and promote our mutual wellbeing.

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104.24



“Are We Nearly There Yet?”

I’m sure we are all familiar with the concept of the plaintive cry of a small child on a long car journey who cries out – “are we nearly there yet?”, usually when going on holiday or travelling a great distance across the country. Well, this week we heard plenty of other distressed ‘holiday cries’ as people discovered that the government was imposing a 14 day quarantine period upon all travellers and holiday makers returning from Spain who it feared might be harbouring the coronavirus. Not only did the suddenness of the announcement take holiday makers by surprise, but holiday companies, travel firms and airlines were all equally caught out and swiftly started to complain that the government was being too heavy handed and extreme in its response which they thought unreasonable. Naturally, the Spanish authorities were indignant that they had been singled out in this way, and upset about the effect that this restriction would have upon their tourist industry and economy, arguing that many of their choice tourist locations were better protected and managed than their equivalents in the UK. But within a few days and with the number of Covid-19 infections rising in Germany, France and Belgium, it became clear that the government’s concern was far wider, fearing that a ‘second wave’ of the pandemic might be looming and swiftly sweep across Europe towards the UK.      

Apart from the obvious imperative of the government to protect its citizens, this episode demonstrated the sombre truth that despite the relaxing of lockdown restrictions and greater public freedoms, the virus had not gone away, and these latest measures politically symbolised the government’s resolve and willingness to act. Indeed, despite huge progress being made in terms of testing and the development of a vaccine, it was abundantly clear that as far as this particular journey was concerned, we weren’t ‘nearly there yet’; in fact we would still have to keep travelling and working together for some considerable time if we were ever going to reach our final goal and long held desire and ambition of a virus free future. This was a point made by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the World Health Organisation who despite telling the World’s media that the pandemic was accelerating (16 million cases of coronavirus had been reported to the WHO), still insisted that “We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference. The future is in our hands.”  If we are going to achieve our goal then we need to work together.

St Paul reminded the early church at Philippi that if they wanted to successfully overcome the trials and tribulations that came their way, then they needed to become more like Christ in both their attitude and outlook, for Christ had not avoided suffering but pushed his way through it in order to win the greater prize of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins for all those who put their faith and trust in him. It was Paul’s ambition to become more like him, thinking about and loving and caring for the world in the same way that Christ did. Now of course, nobody wants to suffer or likes it, but it is the manner in which we face it and lovingly support one another through it that makes all the difference and will ultimately help us overcome the trial before us and reach our destination.       

Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4.13-14


What Are Your Hopes For The ‘New Normal’?


Despite the fact that, at the time of writing, we have the second highest infection rate in Europe (Sweden is first) bringing with it fears of a potential second wave of coronavirus infections, it certainly appears as if the government is slowly and determinedly bringing us out of lockdown! Thousands of non-essential shops can open as of the 15th June, along with zoos and safari parks, and churches have been told that they can reopen for ‘private prayer’. People may meet outside in groups of 6 as long as social distancing is observed, and single adults may form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. However, as previously mentioned by the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, the restrictions will continue to ease in slowly and people will have to get used to a ‘new normal’. So what will life be like post this coronavirus crisis, and what are our hopes for the ‘new normal’? Well for some the new normal will be very painful as they miss loved ones who have sadly died, but others have expressed a hope and a desire that we might move into a new kinder, gentler society, where people of all persuasions, classes and colour are valued for who they are and adequately rewarded for the work they provide. Indeed, this terrible experience has shone a light upon the status of those who were previously considered to be in low paid, menial employment but whose roles have now been properly recognised as being essential to the wellbeing of the country. This was illustrated by the ten week period of ‘clapping for carers’, which initially started off as being purely for the NHS, but rapidly expanded to cover carers, ‘key workers’ and other essential services as people’s awareness and appreciation of one another grew. This kindness is certainly a lesson that we will need to carry on into the new normal, as no doubt there will be many more in need of such kind consideration as they struggle to make ends meet due to the loss of jobs and the nature of a weak and fragile economy.

The Christian will be reminded of the famous words of St Paul who, when describing the young church at Corinth reminded them, “That the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all it’s parts are many, they form one body….the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you! On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12.12,21-22). Of course, although this lesson was aimed at the Christian church, it is equally applicable to any Christian in society, indeed it’s a mark of good neighbourliness, care and concern. It encourages us not only to not take one another for granted but also demonstrates that we are all important and that we all have a role to play. I think this is fairly well summed up in the song that we so often hear the children sing in school:

When I needed a neighbour

Were you there, were you there?

When I needed a neighbour were you there?

And the creed and the colour

And the name won’t matter

Were you there?

If we can confidently sing the last verse ‘wherever you travel, I’ll be there’, then perhaps the ‘new normal’ will be something that we can all look forward and aspire to.


Love the Lord your God with all your heart. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. Mark 12.30-31


Patience Is A Virtue – Even In ‘Lockdown’

200501-coronavirus-research

Every Thursday evening my family and I, like many others, have stood outside our house clapping our hands, applauding the sterling work of the NHS whose doctors and nurses have been battling on the ‘front line’, looking after and caring for sick coronavirus patients. But over the weeks our appreciation has grown as we have become more aware (and thoughtful) of all those who are playing such a massive part at this difficult time, not just the doctors and nurses but all employees of the NHS; alongside care workers in care homes (the new and perhaps previously forgotten front line?); ‘key workers’ in so many various and different fields (supermarkets, schools, and utilities) and not forgetting the increasingly significant part played by funeral directors, whose own personal ‘risk’ is not inconsequential.

The panic buying of the first few weeks has been largely forgotten by the many acts of kindness that we have seen by members of the public as they look after and support one another, especially the vulnerable, at this difficult time. We have seen real acts of courage, bravery and sacrifice undertaken by those whose professionalism and dedication to public duty and care has put themselves at risk in the service of others. We remember especially all those doctors, nurses and care workers who have died, largely and inexplicably from the BAME community. All this has been coupled with massive acts of generosity as people have rallied to support one another and the NHS behind such inspirational figure heads as Captain Tom Moore.

Coronavirus stats

But of all the virtues we have witnessed there is one that seems to be in increasingly short supply (particularly in the media) and that is – patience! Despite being told from the outset that this crisis would be more like a marathon than a sprint, we were barely ‘locked down’ for a fortnight before the media started to ask as to when the lockdown might be lifted. This question gained momentum from business and opposition parties as the cost to business and the economy started to bite. In one sense these are natural questions to ask and no one underestimates the very real pain and uncertainty that people are feeling and experiencing. The costs and pain to peoples’ lives and livelihoods at this time is immense, and yet I would suggest that it is nothing compared to the pain of losing a loved one. For many life will go on, even if it is different, but once you have lost someone you can never get that life back! That’s why it is crucial that we all pay attention to the rate of infection (the ‘R’ number) and follow the government guidelines. Until we have ‘flattened the curve’ and this number becomes ‘1’ or ‘less than 1’ it would be irresponsible to lift the restrictions. The cost to the economy and people’s lives would be much, much worse if we allowed this rate to increase again – which it could easily and very rapidly do. At the time of writing 26,771 people have died of the coronavirus in the UK alone, a rise of 674 from the previous day. These are unprecedented numbers which is why we must hold on to our nerve and our courage! We must bravely hold on to our resolve and our dedication. We must continue to have faith, courage and patience! As tempting as it may be to return to work, to enjoy the sunshine and pick up our normal lives once again, we can’t until it is safe to do so. Neither can we allow the sacrifice of others to be wasted, nor destroy our hope for a better future.

BB13uBmy

The Christian will be aware that Jesus also undertook a very long, arduous and painful journey towards the cross. The shadow of his looming death must have been a constant and fearful presence, and yet he bravely continued on, knowing that it would be the only way by which others might be saved. So, at this time of national crisis, let’s continue to embrace the path which is set out before us, doing so with the same love, resolve, determination and kind generosity of spirit – and let us be patient!  


4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud…. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

            1 Corinthians 13.4,6-7


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