United Benefice of Altham and Clayton-le-Moors
The Revd Toby Webber, The Vicarage, Church Street, Clayton-le-Moors, BB5 5HT
If you’ve a garden, or if you’ve been out for a walk, you’ve hopefully seen some snowdrops out by now. In fact, there are also a few crocuses out in the churchyard and one primrose in our garden began flowering in mid-January, very prematurely! Snowdrops are a flower beautiful in their simplicity and in their role as the first herald of the new growth of the spring that lies ahead. They are also remarkable for their resilience in the midst of ice and snow. One of their traditional names is Candlemas Bells – a lovely link to this time of year and to the feast we celebrated this Tuesday of Jesus’ presentation in the temple. The light of Jesus our Emmanuel shines in the darkness even yet.
We’ve needed every sign of hope and every encouragement to resilience over this last month of renewed lockdown. After such long restrictions, and coming in midwinter, it’s been the hardest one to cope with for many people. Please God, though, it will be the last one. With vaccines reaching more and more people – 10 million already have had their first doses, including many of our older parishioners – and with better weather not too far off – we can be hopeful.
As part of all this, thank you for bearing with church being closed for physical services. As you will be aware, this wasn’t a legal requirement this time – but was the right thing to do, especially in response to the plea from the director of public health for Lancashire. We will keep this decision under review and as it seems appropriate will begin to offer ‘in person’ services again. At the very latest I pray that we’ll be back in church by Easter Day.
As well as worship, one thing many have missed is the social side of church. To help with this, we’ve begun holding a ‘coffee and chat’ zoom meeting after the service each Sunday morning at around 11:55am. Those who log on spend half an hour or so having a catch up, which is very welcome. Why not give it a try? The Mothers’ Union also have a weekly zoom meeting each Tuesday – Jaqui Houlker can let you have the log on details for that if you’re interested.
Shrove Tuesday (16 Feb) gives us a chance for a bigger social gathering. We’re having an online quiz! Join us on Zoom at 7pm – Meeting ID: 853 3586 9496 Passcode: 955912. There will be a round especially for children as we hope this will be something families will join in with.
Ash Wednesday follows on 17th Feb and there will be an online service at 7:30pm. Do join if you can and begin Lent with a joint act of worship.
Our focus this Lent will be on St Mark’s gospel. I would strongly encourage you to join people around the diocese in reading a little of it each day. And – if you can – to read it all through at the beginning and end of Lent as well. It’s by far the shortest and simplest to read of the four gospels. Our diocese has produced a booklet ‘Read, Mark and Learn’ with a reflection to accompany each day’s reading. Find it at www.blackburn.anglican.org/seasonal-resources or I have copies available – please just ask and I can drop one off.
What of Lent groups? Well, of course we can’t meet in each other’s houses or at the back of church. So instead, we will use Zoom. Apologies to those who are on this or similar platforms for a lot of the day, but there is little alternative at the moment. Each Thursday evening, beginning 25th February, we’ll meet together in this way. The title is ‘Looking out in Lent’ and through the lens of Mark’s Gospel we will explore what it means to look outwards in sharing the good news, teaching the faith, tending to human need, transforming society and caring for creation. There will be a video to watch and we will share in discussion, splitting into smaller groups for this. We will end with a short time of worship which will replace night prayer on these Thursdays.
Whether or not you have previously joined in Lent groups or courses, do think about joining this one. It is an opportunity for us all to continue to grow in faith, to share in fellowship, and to begin to think outwards and upwards. Lent is always a time for preparation and opening ourselves to God’s re-creative love. This year let us pray that it will be a time when we can especially be prepared through it for all that God has in store for us as individuals and as a parish as the lockdown eases, more of life returns and new opportunities arise.
At the present time we are very conscious of those who grieve – the families of the 100,000 lost to covid-19 and the many others who have lost loved ones where they have not been able to visit them in hospitals or care homes and where funerals have been reduced to a short service with limited attendees and no chance to socialize afterwards. A run of recent deaths in our own church families – Jessie Ireland, Mildred Birtwistle and Ian Mimnagh – brings this home. Do continue to keep all the bereaved in your prayers. You might like to use this one, issued by the Church of England.
Gracious God, as we remember before you the thousands who have died,
surround us and all who mourn with your strong compassion.
Be gentle with us in our grief, protect us from despair,
and give us grace to persevere and face the future with hope
in Jesus Christ our risen Lord. Amen.
Finally, before Christmas I received a note from the Rev’d Brian Stevenson, who has helped so much in our parishes in the past, especially during the last two vacancies. He writes,
“Dear friends, I realize that I must seem to have disappeared from the radar screen (as they say), so I thought I ought to bring you up to date. Many of you know that at the beginning of 2019 Marian and I moved to a flat in Whalley. At the time I thought I was just feeling the effects of the trauma of moving, not realizing that I wasn’t very well. Within days of moving, I had to see my ‘new’ doctor in Whalley, the result being that I am being ‘sorted out’ medically and am now ‘taking the tablets’! The end result is that at 86 and with ill-health I am not ‘fit for purpose’ and have not renewed my Permission to Officiate from the bishop. In short, I have finally retired from retirement ministry which I have enjoyed these last nineteen years, much of which has been in your parish. I write simple to thank all of you for your support and to Vicar Toby for inviting me to help. 23 Vale House Close, Whalley, BB7 9TY tel 824229.”
I pray that this Lent – as nature renews itself from its winter slumbers – God may renew us in faith in our salvation, in devotion to Christ and in service of others in His name.
Love in Christ, Toby