NEWS FROM S. MARY’S
As an interior designer I have often been told that I am obsessed with colour. Although I would not consider myself a ‘fashionista’ I make no apology for liking colour. In fact, I believe we should be brave and creative with colour, not just when decorating our homes or buying new clothes, but in our churches and especially in our worship.
100 years ago the interior of S. Mary’s was saturated with colour, and the murals bursting with pattern. Statues of the saints, elaborate friezes of vines and pomegranates from floor to ceiling, all emblazoned in bright colours. It would certainly have had the WOW factor, although even I would be tempted to say, ‘a little OTT’! The recently revealed mural on the east wall, only provides a hint of what the original must have looked like.
One afternoon during lockdown I carried out the daily security check at S. Mary’s and was amazed at the kaleidoscope of colours dancing across the walls of the Nave, created by the late afternoon sun shining through the west window and picking out the various colours from the stained glass – I wish you could have seen this spectacular sight.
Colour is not a new phenomenon within the Church. The Church seasons are represented by altar frontals and priest’s vestments in different colours: Purple (changing to Rose Pink for one Sunday in Lent and Advent), White/Gold, Red, and Green. Black can be introduced for funerals. There are also many references in the bible, far too many to mention here. Probably the most well known being the rainbow of seven colours (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet), sent as a sign by God to Noah, that He would never again destroy the earth (Genesis 9:13). Then there’s Joseph’s coat of many colours, yes – that ‘amazing techni-coloured dreamcoat’! (Genesis 37:3) Other references I have found (and I am sure you can find more), some with conflicting symbolism are: Red – for blood and wine. Green – for new life/growth (also frailty and disease). Blue – for heaven and all that is holy (I’m reminded that blue is my favourite colour), it also represents vanity, whores and idolatry!!! Purple – for royalty and riches. White – for purity and righteousness. Yellow – for the colour of gold (also for leprosy). Grey – for the beauty of old age (also for weakness). Etc., etc., and to think that the Church is sometimes referred to as being bland and colourless.
The rainbow is the Christian symbol for hope and has been adopted as a symbol of support for the NHS during this period of the Coronavirus. With this symbol and the colours represented, we hope and pray that we will soon be lifted from this Grey cloud that hangs over the world. Colours make people smile and smiling is infectious. I look forward to seeing you all in your brightest colours as we approach the season of Advent.
Now the bright Red maple leaf has descended upon the rectory, we welcome Fr. Peter and his family to the parish. I am sure they will brighten our churches and worship with their own splash of colour – or should it be color?
As we enter the final months of the year, the natural world around us is beginning to prepare for winter. Many people find the turn from warm summer days, the swell of gardens filled with blooms and heavy green leaf laden trees into Autumn challenging because it points to aging, decay and the closing down of things, of life even.
With Covid-19 as a backdrop to this Autumn these changes can become even more challenging.
But here in Buxted and Harlow Down our countryside makes the turning of the season a celebration of the progression of life, of maturity and of ripeness. Of beauty as green turns to red and into gold.
In our lives, there is a time for every season. The writer of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament spoke of this:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to end and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to turn away,
a time for strife and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8)
This is the wealth of the human experience. And in each and every season, in the closing down of the year, in the challenges of Covid-19, God is always with us, always present.
NEWS FROM ST MARY’S – September 2020
The St Mary’s site is sometimes referred to as the ‘parish campus’ as we have not only the church, but also The Rectory, the Church Hall and more recently, the Community Garden in the top field. All of these require administration and maintenance, relying on voluntary effort in a number of areas.
There was a ‘deep clean’ of the Church Hall in July, in readiness for the re-opening of the Hall. It is hoped that this will be in September, but we are of course subject to government rules and requirements, which are subject to change. Homer tells me that the Dementia Group would very much like to come back, and Universal Dance are eager to have some definite dates for their children’s class. We are also hoping to cater for the canine community with some regular ‘fun dog training’ classes. So fingers crossed that all this will be able to go ahead.
A few weeks back I completed my own response to the Reading Room survey, and commented that the two halls in Church Road could usefully co-ordinate with each other to avoid clashes of dates, and also to accommodate events which require safe outside space and parking. St Mary’s is able to tick both these boxes and so is ideal to host larger outside events.
The Rectory remains empty, but hopefully not for too much longer. We had a very successful working party at the end of July to tame the garden, and our mowing contractor will be keeping the grass down until the new Rector arrives. The appeal for furniture and fittings seems to be going very well, so all is set to provide a welcoming home environment for Rev. Molloy and his family.
In the churchyard we have adopted a policy of keeping the Upper Churchyard ‘wilded’ for the summer, with strimming taking place in the late Autumn. The other areas of the site, including the Community Garden, are being close cut.
You may have noticed a large area immediately behind the church which is also close cut and enclosed by rose hedging. This will eventually serve as a Garden of Remembrance. We have permission to provide some bench seating, and some tentative enquiries are being made with the Diocese as regards what may be possible to accommodate memorials.
Sunday church services are now re-instated, and we also open the church every day for visitors and private prayer. Do drop in to the ‘campus’ if you find yourself in the centre of the village. Apart from The Rectory, it is fully open to the public and is a well kept and tranquil place and, we hope, a credit to the village.
Contribution from St Mary the Virgin to the Buxted Messenger – August 2020 Edition
As we have emerged somewhat blinking into the daylight of post lockdown life one of the joys is being able to worship together in our Parish churches. You will always be given a warm welcome at our 11.15 Mass each Sunday at St Mary’s, never more so than at our Patronal Festival, which is held to celebrate the Feast Day of the Blessed Virgin and which this year will be held on Sunday 16th August. Due to Covid-19 restrictions regrettably there will be limited spaces so do make sure to come early so as not to miss out.
We have become used over the past several months to lockdown worship and meetings. Endless Zoom screen time. It has been a gift for many, isolated and cut off from family and friends.
But unlike Zoom our companionship with God through Jesus is not dependent upon receiving a link and dialling in. God is with us at all times, wherever we go and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. God is not just for Sundays or the happy times but he walks alongside us, providing us with his strength, for the difficult hard times, even the dark valley times, in our lives.
In the New Testament letter to the Romans (8:38-39) St Paul reminds us that “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And when you dial up to Zoom you wait to be admitted to the online meeting by the person who has invited you. Not so with God. We all probably remember the parable of the lost son, who took his father’s portion of wealth and squandered it. He didn’t believe that upon returning home he would be welcomed at all. But we are reminded that the father, just like God, who had been waiting expectantly, whilst the son was still some way off from reaching home, ran out to greet him and threw his arms around him in love. He is so filled with joy at his son’s return he doesn’t question or lecture him; instead, he unconditionally forgives him and accepts him back into his home. That is the message of our Gospel, grace given to us without limit. No waiting to be admitted.
And although, when the Zoom call is over, everyone presses the link to leave the meeting, God remains with us. There is no checking out by him. As the Psalmist says: “I always remember that the Lord is with me. He is here, close by my side.” (Psalm 16)
And so whilst Zoom and other online technologies bring all our family and friends close to us virtually, in reality, God is always there to love, support and care for us in every situation we find ourselves night and day.
Every blessing to you all from the congregation at St Mary’s.
At the time of writing it has been announced that churches will soon be opening again for private prayer. Let us hope that some form of public worship, with amendments if necessary, will not be far behind.
At St Mary’s we have been dealing with some incursions by the weather, particularly damage to the bell tower roof and the flint facings to the front stairs.
What appeared to be a fairly routine check on the internal decorations has proved to be more challenging. St Mary’s is unusual in not having been built with an east window. The original plan was to extend the church to the east at some later stage, but these plans did not come to fruition. The east wall was originally decorated with murals designed by our founder Fr Alfred Douglas Wagner, depicting four saints in canopied niches. Work on these ceased upon the death of Fr Wagner in 1902. Work resumed in 1917, with the project completed by Fr Roe. Both Fr Roe and his wife are buried in the churchyard.
The murals were painted over in 1951, at a time when they were less than forty years old and presumably in good condition. One is reminded of some of the excesses of the Reformation, but perhaps there was a more mundane reason for it. The grand carved wooden altar and reredos were also removed, and it is unclear where they ended up. The only thing to survive was the centrepiece of the reredos, a depiction of the Immaculate Conception painted by Fr Roe himself. This now hangs in the ante-chamber to the Walsingham Chapel.
Four years ago St Mary’s was internally re-decorated, and the murals were exposed. At that time we were advised that it would not be feasible to restore them, so regretfully they were again painted over. The paint on the east wall does not however seem to have adhered very well, and most of it came away last month when a few exploratory scrapes were tried by our contractor.
The Churchwardens and Diocesan Architect have inspected the east wall, and the Diocesan Advisory Committee have been asked to investigate whether at least part of the exposed sections might be retained. We could then have a small reminder of the ‘lavish decoration and furnishings’ as described by commentators as late as the 1960s.
Another important part of our re-opening plan is the pilgrimage programme. We hope to again welcome pilgrims in 2021. These will be whole day occasions, as in 2019. As a part of these days there will be a talk on the history of the church, with some interesting props, delivered by Colin Woolgrove. We will make sure that the dates and times are publicised here, and of course you do not need to be a pilgrim to attend.
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.