These are Tony Berry's last letters from the 2021 editions of the Abinger and Coldharbour Parish News.
My last Rector’s Letter!
Where has the 28 years gone, since that day in June 1993 when we were interviewed, and offered the post to be the incumbent of the Benefice of Abinger with Coldharbour? I was looking at an old Parish News, and saw that John Venus, my predecessor, said as he was leaving after 10 and a half years that he had once been advised, one needed a good reason to stay shorter than 5 or longer than 10 years. Well I guess the reason we have stayed so long is that we have loved being amongst you all. I also reread what I wrote in the Parish News before we arrived and what my first letter as Rector of the Parish said in the December 1993 issue. In the former I mention the warm welcome we received at the September Leith Hill Group Garden Party, and in the latter I talked about our lost cat, and the wonder of Christmas.
Well the time has come to say our goodbyes and for me to write this last letter. As I reflect on what I wrote back in 1993, those topics remain relevant. First, the welcome we have received has stayed with us. We have felt, and hopefully been, very much part of the communities in both parishes. We have been loved and we appreciate that. We have been cared for, and have shared joys and sorrows with many of you. When we felt called to village ministry, it was the vision of community that drew us and you have made that vision a reality for us and hopefully for one another. The other two topics have other spiritual dimensions. The lost cat story will always have echoes of the Prodigal son; that most wonderful of Jesus’ parables which reminds us of the overwhelming and proactive love of God towards us all. The wonder of Christmas will always speak to that proactiveness of God in the coming of Christ into our world and reaching out to draw us home, just like that Prodigal son.
So, what I want to leave you with is this wonderful verse from St Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 20 : Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
I cannot put it better than that.
God bless you all and thank you.
From the Rector’s Desk
Just a quick note to say thank you to all those who have been my Churchwardens and PCC members over the years.
To all those who have played a part in maintaining, cleaning, and decorating the churches with flowers, and played their part in services.
To all those who have worked on the Parish News, both editorially and distributing it.
To Rosemary, Caroline and Sally who have worked alongside me and put up with my many administrative failings.
And to my wife who has had the difficult task of being a clergy wife, to a very idiosyncratic clergy person.
July and August 2021
This edition is usually the one where I talk about summer holidays and also our usual trip to Southwold for the Beach Mission. Hopefully many of you who take their holiday in the school break will be able to have some sort of time away somewhere. Sadly for us the Beach Mission will not be happening again for the second summer in a row. That takes some getting used to after having spent 40 previous summers there. It is a place where I have met hundreds of children,over the years, some of whom now bring their own children. It is a place where I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful inspiring people. It is a place where I have sought to use the gifts God has given me. But supremely it is a place where I have seen God answer prayer, where He has grown and developed people’s faith, and where I have seen Him transform people’s lives. I shall miss it.
Of course many people will miss their usual holiday plans, but I hope most will be able to get away at some point. Taking a break is so important. Once when life had been particularly hectic for the disciples Jesus urged them to join him in getting away from it all. He knew they needed space and a chance for rest and relaxation and more importantly he understood the value of taking that time. The need for rest is at the heart of the Creation story and it was part of the DNA of the Hebrew nation’s week. So much so that they ended up misunderstanding its purpose and thought of making endless rules to ensure it worked. The rules made it anything but restful.
Taking a break enables the chance to refocus, to set aside the constant cares of this world. That is why corporate worship takes place on the break in the week. It enables the worshipper to bring God into the refocusing. A chance to gain a bigger perspective, an eternal perspective and one that has been gathered in community and not on one’s own.
May you find rest for your soul’s this summer.
From the Rector’s Desk
This is my penultimate Rector’s letter. I shall be retiring on the 30th of September. I want to thank you for the privilege of writing to you all for the past 27 + years.
Do check the services’ pages as things change a bit during August.
Usually in this issue of Parish News I would be thanking people for their contribution to the Fete and Fair. These two events, which are major opportunities for us to bring our communities together, have now been absent from our collective calendars for a second year. We all feel the loss of such fun and happiness which they generate, but thankfully they are not forgotten and will hopefully return next year with added zeal!
As the lockdown appears to be drawing to a close, albeit with some caution, we now look forward rather than back. We will be able to do things which we haven’t for some time; indeed there will be some things we thought we may not be able to do which we now find will be possible.
We need to be gearing ourselves up for change as we hopefully enter the post pandemic era.
Our churches have had to do a fair bit of adapting and rethinking and now we have to think again about being ready when restrictions are lifted.
The very first members of the Christian Church had to do that on several occasions. The first big change was how to follow Jesus without Jesus being there to tell them what to do. A second big change was to know how to handle non Jews wanting to join their number. Another change was when churches began all over the Roman Empire how they managed to keep a sense of unity with one another. And of course the Church has been adapting and changing ever since, sometimes wisely and sometimes very badly.
Jesus wanted his followers to trust God through all these changes, he warned them that sometimes it would be difficult. He talked of new wine in old wineskins, new patches on old cloth and how these would not always work. But He also told them if you kept your eyes on the Kingdom of God and its righteousness then it would sort itself out. Perhaps that is a good guiding principle as we consider change.
I wonder what era you think you belong to. We now have all these odd expressions like “Gen X” or “Gen Z” or “Millennials” or even “Snowflake generation” .They replaced the more homely “Baby Boomers”. My parents were that “Between the Wars” generation, and I guess that generation is now coming to an end. With the passing of Prince Philip we are indeed seeing the beginning of an end of an era. Soon the second Elizabethan age will draw to a close and those of us who have known or remember nothing or little else will find ourselves in a new era.
Of course in terms of world history this is nothing new, different societies, cultures and civilizations have faced such challenges as time has rolled inexorably on. Some have dealt with it better than others, but sadly some have simply faded away and are now forgotten except for some ancient ruins that mark their one time prowess.
What will remain depends how one adapts to the changes that follow. We realize the vanity of the human race can lead it to make proud boasts of permanence, within living memory the Third Reich spoke of “a Thousand years”. We often talk about things “going down in history”, but history itself teaches us that what is remembered is a very fickle thing; and what we think will be remembered is the very thing that is forgotten.
The generation of Hebrew slaves who escaped from Egypt may have thought that they would be remembered for being part of such a wonderful escape and adventure, but their stubbornness and untrusting attitude is what is now recalled, and they never saw the era of the promised land.
The disciples of Jesus had no idea how they might be remembered as they entered into their new era. An era of living by the Spirit of God guiding them, encouraging them, empowering them to witness to the truth of the Resurrection of Jesus. Unlike the Hebrews before them, they simply put their trust in God and let history unfold. We can learn a lot from their example.
From the Rector’s Desk.
A very big thank you to those who made our churches look so lovely for Easter.
As things may relax more over this month, do please look out for possible changes to our services. We have tried to plan appropriately and get the balance right, but things may change and if they do we will try and let you know through the websites or through email. Thanks for your patience through the pandemic.
Well given the proximity of Easter to the publication date I wish you a happy Easter or hope you had a wonderful Easter.
I am often torn between the two great festivals of Christmas and Easter. If anyone asks me which is my favourite, I vacillate in replying because I just can’t decide. Christmas is definitely a more homely celebration of a wonderful spiritual truth that God enters our world. But Easter, although not so homely and family orientated, has this wonderful truth in holding out the possibility of our entering in an eternal existence with God.
For those first disciples of Jesus the sacredness of the day of Resurrection meant they changed and moved their Sabbath day. That was a mind blowing thing to do. For over a thousand years the Sabbath had been set in the minds of the people of God as unchanging, but now a new day was set apart for worship. It takes courage to make that sort of change
This year, once again, our Easter celebrations are/have been constrained by the pandemic. Yet the truth is that just as the stone could not keep Jesus in his borrowed grave, the restrictions cannot hold back the desire of Christians to praise the Risen Christ! We may not be able to do so in familiar ways but our hearts still ring with praise to God for raising Jesus.
As things gradually change and we meet up with loved ones and eventually are allowed to visit and stay with them, we will recognise that for all the frustration and difficulties and pain of these months, the love and joy we have in our relationships will not have diminished. If anything it will have been strengthened by the very difficulties we have endured.
My hope and prayer in this Resurrection season is that following the winter of the Pandemic, we will make the most and best that the spring of new opportunities brings as we emerge into a post Pandemic existence. That might mean having the courage to make some big changes.
God bless you all.
From the Rector’s Desk
I just want to thank everyone who has worked so hard during this latest lockdown. Many in our communities have given time and energy to supporting others, so thank you. Thank you to those in our churches who have kept things going and made things happen, especially our Parish Secretary, the Churchwardens, and our Organist! Many thanks.
Well many of us have now been vaccinated and some may well have had their second dose, so perhaps we are feeling a little less anxious than when we began the year. Of course that is not to say we are out of the woods yet, but hopefully it means the summer might have some bright spots about it; although we should say that the weather may yet throw a spanner on days out, days away, and days on holiday!
We are approaching the most positive Christian festival of Easter. The message of new life in Christ, echoes the message that nature brings each spring, but the difference is the eternal and everlasting message of resurrection life.
Wisely the church wanted people to approach that message with thoughtfulness and reflection and so the season of Lent was used to do just that. Originally a time of preparation for those who were joining the faith and being baptised on Easter day it has become a time for self examination and seeking to improve one’s self discipline.
I don’t know about you but I find self examination a whole lot easier than self discipline. I find it very easy to recognise in myself a weakness for cheese, but find it much harder to resist it calling to me from the fridge just before I go to bed.
Of course that is just the rather benign side of the coin. There are other weaknesses which can be hurtful to others and possibly self destructive, all of which need to be rooted out and dealt with if the process of transformation is to move towards that eternal and everlasting message of resurrection life.
Lent will come to an end, but that process lasts a lifetime, Christians call it discipleship. Following Jesus calls for a discipline based on his teachings and seeking his help.
I have just re-read my articles for Feb and March last year. I got to wondering what I would have written if I had known what was to come. The February article was about the possibilities of a new year and the milestones that it might contain, the March one about the self imposed restrictions of giving up something for Lent and building a community. My initial thought was, that in the light of what was to come, it didn’t seem relevant, but on reflection perhaps those thoughts were more relevant than we could possibly have imagined at the time.
I recognise that the pandemic has had devastating effects for millions of people around the world. I cannot imagine the grief and sense of loss that this has caused so many people from all walks of life, all sorts of circumstances, the scale of it is too hard to comprehend. The anxiety many must feel concerning the future must be so debilitating. And our communities are not exempt from it, indeed you or your neighbours may be experiencing that right now.
It is easy to speak about trust in God from the safety of the shoreline, it is different when you are out on the water and the boat feels as though it is about to sink. The first disciples of Jesus had an experience like that. They accused Jesus of not caring because he was able to sleep through the storm. They were frightened, and these were not day trippers, they were experienced sailors used to the storms that blew up so quickly, so if they were frightened, they had good reason.We often focus our thoughts on the power of God to still the storm, rather than listen and ponder on the rebuke of Jesus to the disciples. Jesus wanted them to trust him, not just because He could still the storm, but because He would go through the storm with them whatever that entailed. In either case He was worth trusting.
So whether you are on the shoreline watching the storm in relative safety, or you are out there in the midst of it and feel the boat sinking, I do believe He is worth trusting. Christians through the ages have staked their eternal destiny on that truth, and we can too.
From the Rector’s Desk.
First, as the new year begins, I do hope it will bring hope, more happiness and joy for us all than perhaps we can imagine at the moment.
Next I want to say thank you for your support over the weeks as I had the operation and began the process of recovery.
I also need to say thank you to those who have worked so hard to make our celebration of Christmas and beyond as positive as it could have been. Insidious as it is to mark anyone out when it is such a collective effort; it would be remiss of me not to thank especially Virginia, Hilary, Ed, Sally, and all the Churchwardens for their hard work in getting things together in such confusing and difficult circumstances.
God bless you all.