Category Archives: Rector’s Reflections

Revd Sue Mann

26th January 2020

It’s the time of year, isn’t it, when many of us have become a bit fed up with the short days: dark mornings coupled with early nights. We long for the onset of warmer weather and the new growth of Spring.

But what I do love, living in this part of the world, is gazing at the dark silhouettes of the trees set against the big skies and, in the evenings, appreciating the beauty of the sun as it sets, with its warm rays shining through the skeleton branches.

As you receive this magazine we will be concluding the season of Epiphany, when we remember the Magi visiting Jesus, representing the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, and the revelation of his light to the world. Christ came for all; he came as light to shine in the darkness just as the sun shines through the bare branches, and that is good news for each of us.

I don’t watch much television but one thing I have seen this new year is the two episodes of ‘The Choir,’ when Gareth Malone went into Aylesbury Young Offenders Institution.

The statistics for Aylesbury are that the 400 inmates, aged between 18 and 21, are doing time for various offences, including drug crimes, robbery, GBH, manslaughter and murder. About a sixth are serving life sentences and forty per cent are struggling with mental health problems. Three months before Gareth Malone arrived in June 2019, Aylesbury was placed under special measures owing to high levels of self-harm and violence. Half the prisoners were moved out, and three wings were shut down.

The BBC introduces this programme with the following words.

Gareth Malone faces a challenge which will test him like no other – to form a choir in one of the toughest prisons for young offenders. What he learns takes him by surprise.

Gareth, however, is determined to produce a concert at the end of his nine weeks at Aylesbury. By building positive relationships with the individuals, engaging with their stories and giving them encouragement, he succeeds in enabling a group of inmates to write songs, and perform with and to staff and fellow inmates, and members of their families are invited to come and listen.

The performance, itself, was moving, but, more so, was the reaction of many of the parents, for whom the concert had provided an opportunity to embrace their sons and declare how proud they were of them. Perhaps these were words, because of the circumstances, those young people hadn’t heard from their parents for a long time.

It was also good to see the sense of achievement on the faces of the young offenders as they rapped and sang and were applauded by others. I viewed this as something of a metaphor of Christ’s light shining in the darkness. My prayer for each of those young people was that they would know that they are deeply loved and affirmed by God and that they would continue to recognise and realise their potential.

As a minister, it is my prayer that each one of us recognise and realise our God given potential.

This year, in 2020, let’s invite Christ’s light to shine in our lives, especially in any areas of personal struggle and darkness we might face and allow God to transform us.

God bless,

Sue

Revd Sue Mann

5th December 2019

The latest news is that we are now on Facebook and Twitter. You can find us at: @HOBNOBChurches.

We will be using both of these forms of social media, as well as this website and our magazine, to publicise our services, and it would be lovely if you are able to join us at some, or all, of our acts of worship over the Christmas period.

Of course, before we reach Christmas, we will be travelling through the season of Advent, a period of preparation for the birth of Jesus, reminding ourselves that we are also awaiting Christ’s second coming and reflecting upon how we might cast off those habits which distance us from God. We will also be approaching our general election, following which will be a waiting period as we anticipate who will be leading our country for the next few years.

In my upbringing sex, politics and religion were fairly taboo subjects, either because they were deemed as ‘private’ or because they were likely to ‘provoke an argument.’ But as I have journeyed in my Christian life, I have realised that if we are to take our faith seriously, we need to be able to talk about all of these three things, to engage, prayerfully, in dialogue and discussion, even if it means disagreeing with our brothers and sisters, in order both to be challenged and, subsequently, to reach our own conclusion as to what the right Christian approach is.

And, so, our preparation for Christ’s birth and our awaiting his second coming should not be kept separate from our consideration of who to vote for. In fact, my belief is that these are inextricably linked, and, for those of us who profess to be Christians, the question of ‘what Jesus would  do?’ should be at the forefront of our minds. And, in this time of political uncertainty, this, most definitely, requires some careful consideration.

My intention is not to recommend an allegiance with any particular party but to offer the suggestion that our political thinking should consider the contribution of policies to the promotion of justice and the common good, both nationally and worldwide, rather than just to defend our own interests. Also, In this time of climate and ecological crisis, my belief is that we should reflect upon which manifestos best reflect a care for the creation with which God has entrusted us. And we should, of course, enter into this prayerfully and be prepared to read, listen carefully to all views and be challenged and change our opinions, if necessary.

Christian Aid offers some helpful information on voting. Their election manifesto is: ‘For dignity, equality and justice’ and they are calling for:

  • A new deal for climate justice 
  • A fairer global economy
  • Sustainable development as a human right
  • And for the UK to prioritise peace over war

And you can download their ‘Guide to the General Election’ at christianaid.org.uk which gives more specific information on these issues.

Of course, by the time Christmas arrives, and as we begin a New Year, we will know the results of the General Election. My prayer is that, together, we travel closer towards a world of peace. And, let us reflect upon the words of Paul in his letter to the Colossians, 3: 15, when he said:

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

I wish you all a peaceful, blessed and joyous Christmas and New Year!

With love and prayers,

Sue

Revd Sue Mann

4th November 2019

November is quite a busy time in the Church calendar.

We have our Commemoration of the Departed service at the beginning of the month, where people are invited to come and light a candle in memory of a loved one who has died. We then have our Remembrance Day services where, again, we remember those who have died, or those who are still active in the service of their country.  You are all welcome at those services.

It is so important in many aspects of life to remember. At funeral services we recall the life of the deceased. And in my addresses, I often speak about cherishing the memories of a loved one, but, together, we also ask God to help us to move on. Sometimes people feel a huge sense of guilt at learning to laugh and enjoy life again, when someone close to them has died. The words of the funeral service are written to allow people to grieve, to celebrate the life of the person who has died but also to give people permission to move on, in the knowledge that God is with them. I often find myself reassuring people that it is ok to laugh; that this isn’t disloyal to the friend or relative who had died and that it doesn’t remove the memories or the love for that person; those memories and that love will always be there.

Our church congregations are here due to a long history of traditions being passed on and it is due to faithful Christians of earlier generations that we are still worshipping today. And just as a funeral or memorial service needs to remember a loved one, so our services need to acknowledge that which we have inherited from previous generations. But we also need to give ourselves permission to move on.

When I was ordained, I was commissioned by the Bishop to ‘proclaim the good news of the Gospel afresh for this generation.’ Afresh means finding new ways to engage with people today and, in particular, those who do not know Jesus, because it is a sad fact that we live in an age when church attendance is in decline; serious decline. And as churches we need to do something about this.

In this Benefice we have introduced Messy Church for families, which happens during the week, details of which you will find in this magazine. More recently, I have been working on making our Sunday services more inclusive and accessible. And, after discussion with PCCs, I am hoping to introduce some of these newer services in the New Year. 

Moving on, in many different contexts, can be scary, particularly if we have loved, and lived with, someone or something for many years, but the one thing we can be assured of in the context of change of any kind is that we have a God who is unchanging. Whatever happens around us, whether it be in our personal lives or in our church life, God remains there for us, steadfast and reliable.

Faithful one, so unchanging,
ageless one, you’re my rock of peace.
Lord of all I depend on you.
I call out to you, again and again,
I call out to you, again and again.
You are my rock in times of trouble,
you lift me up when I fall down.
All through the storm, your love is the anchor,
my hope is in you alone.
(Brian Doerksen)

With love and prayers,

Sue

Revd Sue Mann

23rd September 2019

This year we decided to celebrate Harvest during the last week of September and to include, in addition to our normal Sunday services, three school services, a harvest supper, harvest entertainments and a Songs of Praise and, as ever, I am grateful to all those who help during Harvest in any way, to make it such a special occasion, with beautifully decorated churches and wonderful feasts. I would also like to thank those who provide food for, and transport to, the Thurrock Foodbank, not just at Harvest time, but throughout the year.

Most of us are fortunate enough to live in comfort and to be able to choose what we eat or drink or wear. At Harvest time we give thanks for God’s provision and, particularly, in our area, we give thanks for those who farm. But, at this time of uncertainty in our country, it is also important that we hold our farming communities in our prayers.

Our stewardship of the creation, with which God has blessed us, is so important. You are probably aware that Bulphan Church recently won Best Kept Churchyard of the Year competition and one of the reasons for this was the addition of the Bug Hotel that Bulphan in Bloom built, as well as the patch of grass, left wild to provide a habitat for insects. BBC Radio Essex came to Bulphan to record a programme in August which was broadcast in September about all of this, and you can hear the podcast on our website at hobnob.org.uk or on the Bulphan Village Bulletin Board on Facebook.

Our Harvest celebrations, and our joy at receiving our certificate at Bulphan, reminded us of our need to care for our creation on a wider scale.

This year we, as a family, went on our annual visit to ‘Greenbelt,’ the Christian based festival with a strong focus on peace and justice and the main theme was ‘climate change’ and our call, as Christians, to work to stop this, for the sake of not only our own descendants, but for the sake of our brothers and sisters who live in much more fragile ecosystems which have been damaged by our over consumption.

In the words of Desmond Tutu:

Who can stop climate change? We can. We have a responsibility to do so that began when God commanded the earliest human inhabitants of the Garden of Eden to ’till it and keep it’. To keep it; not to abuse it, not to destroy it

You may remember that I attempted a plastic free Lent, and I have to confess that it was hard because almost everything at the supermarkets is packaged in plastic. But, as a family, we continue to seek ways to minimise our use of plastic and lower our impact on the environment. You can now buy toothpaste tablets loose, or toothpaste in a glass jar. Shampoo bars are available, eliminating the need for buying the liquid version in plastic containers. And many coffee shops are now giving reductions in drink prices to those who use their own cup.

There are many ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint and, as Christians, we need not only to be seeking these alternative ways for ourselves as individuals but also to be challenging the institutions with which we have associations, to do the same. This means our places of work too. Sometimes this is not easy but I believe that this is what God requires of us.

I am hoping to do a course on this topic, in the near future, probably during Advent, and so thought it would be fitting to finish my article with the words of a hymn which have been written specially for this course, by Susan Sayers:

We as your people living today,

cry with the aching earth,

knowing that we are warming this home,

home of our saviour’s birth.

Give us the will, show us the way,

help us reflect your grace;

open our hearts, open our lives

help us to heal this place

All that we pledge and all that we choose,

all of our future ways,

take as our humble token of love,

wonder and thankful praise.

 

With love and prayers, Sue

 

Revd Sue Mann

4th August 2019

My husband is in a book group and recently he encouraged them to read the book ‘Frankenstein.’ Some of the book group members were slightly skeptical about this but it provoked some really good conversation.

A friend, who is also in the book group, shared some of her thoughts, saying that ‘Frankenstein’s monster does terrible things but is also a profoundly sad creature, longing for love, friendship, and belonging, and only prompted to acts of cruelty and destruction when these are denied him.’ She went on to suggest that this isn’t too dissimilar from the Gerasene man we recently read about in a Bible passage in church, who is possessed by demons, and who doesn’t obey the normal rules of society, with regard to wearing clothes and living in a house, although we don’t know whether he has done anything very dreadful at all. What we do know, though, is that the local community finds him more than difficult to deal with and, so, on occasion have imprisoned him, chained him and shackled his feet. They, themselves, have ‘demonised’ him. But Jesus treats the man differently even though he greets Jesus angrily. Jesus frees him from his troubles, and restores him to the ordinariness of life, clothed and able to sit in comfort alongside others, about which the locals are very upset. The locals are also, perhaps, somewhat fearful and maybe even disappointed that they, no longer, have a person against whom they could unite.’

My friend, who is a priest, went on to say that she preached to her congregation on this passage and related it to our current political situation sharing that, ‘So much of our current politics has been defined by who or what we are against. Brexit versus Remain. Boris versus the rest. Even in a recent opinion poll, England against, or at least without, Scotland or Northern Ireland.’ And she said that ‘it had crossed her mind to wonder how some people will find a common cause when we are no longer members of the EU, and can blame Europe for what we don’t like…’

We are, of course, concerned for the future of our nation and we want our leader to be someone we can trust and, by the time you read this, our new Prime Minister will have been appointed. But when we are tempted to demonize another person or group of people, by the way we relate to them or by the language we use in describing them, whether it be a politician or person of another faith or culture, or someone living on the streets or a person with a criminal conviction, I believe we are called first to look inwards and consider, in our proposed description of that person or group of particular people, what would we actually be implying about ourselves?  It can be so destructive to infer that someone else is less than us – less safe, less trustworthy, less honest, less loveable, less kind – ultimately less worthy of a place in the world. Sometimes it does us good just to pause and ask ourselves, who are our monsters or demons, worldwide, nationally or locally, to recognize this and act upon it as Jesus would…

My friend finished her sermon with the following words:

‘ “Here be monsters” it used to say on old maps. “Here be monsters” might very well be the headlines of some of our papers and news sources. Look a little closer, and we will see beings made in the image of God. ‘

With love and prayers,

Sue