In our world of altered reality with all of the changes to our lives brought about by Covid-19 and in which many people are experiencing untold hardship, suffering and loss, as many have said, there are still many examples of love, care and kindness which overall prevail in these dark times. Not just the courage and commitment of those who work so tirelessly in the NHS, in social care and as keyworkers who make our lives more bearable during this pandemic. But also the great and little acts of human kindness demonstrated by family, friends, neighbours, parishioners and often strangers to one another, binding our community in care against this adversity.
These horrible and difficult times have brought out the best in many people. And we cling to that as we begin to consider emerging into the new normal which Covid-19 has brought about in our lives.
What does our Church have to say in response to this? Well, although the restrictions brought about by the virus still mean that our regular worship together at St Mary’s and the other churches in our Parish cannot take place, our community of faith and day by day walk with God continues unchanged. We still experience the grace and goodness of God – the kindness of others towards us demonstrates this tangibly – and we still worship as a Parish albeit individually and in our own myriad ways.
And how the kindness of others in these challenging times speaks to us of the fruits of the Spirit, of which we have just been reminded as we celebrated Pentecost Sunday at the end of May. In the Bible we are told:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5, vs 22-23)
These are the characteristics which mark us out as God’s people; they demonstrate that, whilst it is often a struggle, God works through his Spirit to mark us out as changed people and this is evident by what we say and do and the way we go about our daily lives. We’re not perfect, but if we allow God, he will work marvels in our lives.
And the acts of kindness, of common humanity shared amongst us in these times, give us much to thank God for and to celebrate, even in the face of such a pandemic.
Every good wish and blessing from the congregation at St Mary’s.
Six hundred years before Jesus was born, the Jewish people were driven from their beloved temple in Jerusalem and sent away in exile to Babylon. It was a time of bitterness, pain and grief, described so powerfully in Psalm 137: ‘By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion’.
That is surely how most of us feel now that we have been separated for a while from our beloved Shrine at Walsingham. For all of us it is a place of such life and joy and healing that to be unable to make the pilgrimage seems unbearable. It is like an exile to us. And of course that pain comes against a back drop of fear and anxiety in our nation as ever more extreme measures are taken to keep us safe against the pandemic.
So please, in this time of grief, remember three things:
First, remember at Walsingham the praying never stops. The Mass is being offered privately and each night at 6pm a lone person will offer Shrine Prayers in the Holy House. That praying is for you. Walsingham is precious to us because it is a place where prayer is offered and answered and the praying will always continue. So why not, at 6pm each night, offer a Decade of the Rosary and make a pilgrimage to the Holy House in your heart? Or even better, watch the Shrine Prayers as it is live streamed on the Shrine website.
Second, remember that the truth to which Walsingham bears witness is unchanging. Because of Mary’s bold and daring obedience, God is with us in Jesus. And having come to be with us, he has no intention of leaving. No matter what may befall our nation or what you personally may have to endure, Jesus is with you. He who bore pain on the cross bears also the pain of all who will suffer from this virus. He who rose again in glory guarantees that hope and love will always triumph over fear and darkness. Nothing can ever undermine that truth.
And third, remember, this will not last. By being separated for a while from England’s Nazareth, we will come to love it even more. And one day we will return to Mary’s home and join in with her intercession, a band of pilgrims united by our unfailing hope in the Word made Flesh.
So keep praying! Pray for our nation, pray for our Shrine, pray for your loved ones and pray for that day when we can go to Walsingham once more.
With my love and prayers,
In normal circumstances the end of April and beginning of May would be a time of daily activity at St Mary’s, in preparation for our annual Open Day. This has sadly had to be cancelled, along with more or less every other kind of village and parish activity.
The rough notes I had for this article were made a couple of weeks before the ‘lockdown’ but are still relevant now, if not more so.
In the early months of this year, as I went about the business of setting up the event, I was again struck by the general good will and willingness to help. The Tinker’s Park Trust have not only made available more of their historic collection, but also their invaluable experience and skill at event management. Several local businesses were more than happy to sponsor the event, and I was able to assemble a very varied group of exhibitors, with a fascinating range of crafts and things to sell.
I grew up in East London, and in our borough we had a very grand 1930s Town Hall. A frieze above the entrance quotes, if I am right, John Ruskin – ‘Fellowship is Life and the Lack of Fellowship is Death.’ A sociologist would call this ‘social capital’ – people trusting each other and co-operating. A parish such as ours still has this and all its benefits, such as low crime, safe streets and people looking out for each other. Sadly this is no longer the case in that part of London.
We need ‘social capital’ to thrive as human beings in the places where we live, and it becomes vital at a time of crisis. I would say that Buxted’s reserves are good, one very clear example being the volunteer effort operating out of the Buxted Inn during the lockdown.
The Open Day is ready to go, but just not this year! Everyone has signed up for Saturday 15th May 2021, when we look forward to being one great merry throng in and around the hidden gem that is St Mary’s.
Easter in Buxted and Hadlow Down was, like the rest of the country, more about time at home with virtual prayer and worship. However the three churches used their churchyards to make simple statements about Easter. At St Mary’s the Calvary figures garden area were tidied up and shone in the sunshine. St Mark’s had a small Easter garden beside the church, with the stone rolled away from the tomb. St Margaret’s had the bare cross, made from last year’s Christmas tree, with the simple message attached.
For the first time in over 2000 years public worship throughout the country has been suspended and we are also denied the opportunity to use our churches for personal prayer. In short – all churches are now closed.
Although we are living in uncertain times it is important that the Church is seen to be a beacon of hope, and with God’s help we will come through this terrible time a stronger and more compassionate people.
Easter and St. George’s Day are not far off and in common with a number of other churches in England, S. Mary’s will raise the St. George’s flag two weeks early on Lent 5 (29th March); thus signalling to the people of the parish that they are not forgotten and that the Church continues to be alive and active.