Welcome to our Benefice

Our three churches: St. Mary’s, Standon, All Saints, Little Munden and St. Catherine’s, Sacombe are all part of the St. Alban’s Diocese within the Church of England. We are united in name and the desire to welcome every person, young and older, into our wonderful community minded church families. Our hope is to help everyone discover who Jesus is, and then to grow in understanding and faith. We have beautiful church buildings, a fantastic Benefice Choir, various styles of worship, partnerships with two excellent Church of England Schools, and a clear Bible based ministry.

As long as you believe it?

I imagine we've all met infectiously positive people in our time - people who see positives wherever they look and regularly overcome things that seem impossible. Full of admiration, I often wonder what makes such people tick and whether the cause of their positive attitude is real or just imagined. Some might say it doesn't really matter as long as their quality of life is improved and on one level this has to be true. So, can we argue that it doesn't matter what a person believes as long as they believe it?

I recently read the remarkable story of Dr. Wendy Schlessel Harpham, a Dallas-based author of several books for people facing cancer. Twenty-seven years ago, she learned she had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. During the next 15 years of treatments for eight relapses of her cancer, she set the stage for happiness and hope by such measures as surrounding herself with people who lifted her spirits, keeping a daily gratitude journal, doing something good for someone else and watching funny, uplifting movies. Her cancer has been in remission now for 12 years. Wendy's is a remarkable story of positive thinking but also of belief in medical cures - feelings and facts coming together to bring healing. She needed both!

Back to that question: does it really matter what a person believes as long as they believe it? Well the answer has to be 'no' if a positive outlook is the ultimate goal of this life. But what if the question is different? The events of Easter address a very different question: how can we know God? The very beginning of the Bible reveals the problem as Adam and Eve turned away from God, a trait, the Christian faith says, that lives in all of us. But Easter reveals God's solution. As God entered this world in His Son Jesus, the barrier (sin) between every human being and God is finally removed as Jesus surrenders himself to a torturous death by crucifixion. His death and resurrection open the way for every person to know God's forgiveness and love, if we trust in Jesus. So, if there is a God who made this world and you and me, do we want to know Him? We need the right answers to the right questions.

Why not join us for our Easter Day Services on Sunday 1st April.

Alan Comfort, Rector

Response to God

On 21st January just past, we welcomed the Bishop of Hertford to St. Mary's for our Confirmation Service. This was a wonderful celebration, something all our churches are rather good at whether we are hosting the 'big' occasions in people's lives or significant moments in the church year. A Confirmation Service is a public opportunity for a person to make their own faith response to God. For some, these promises were made for them by parents and godparents at their baptism as a child, but for many more these days a baptism has not taken place, so the Confirmation Service includes the opportunity to be baptised as well. It was a great joy to celebrate with our nine candidates, four of them being under the age of sixteen.

What about you and me, what response have we made to God? You may not believe in God and I respect your right to choose, but I wonder if an interesting discussion on week one of our newly started Alpha Course will help us all to reflect. We began with that question: do we need God? All the adults confirmed could give the reasons why they need God, and Jesus even said in Matthew Chapter 9: 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick', so knowing you need help seems vital to finding help, but some in our new Alpha group suggested their lives were fine so why do they need God? A very good question. In the Alpha talk we heard earlier in the evening, Nicky Gumbel remembered watching the World Cup Final in 1966 when England beat West Germany on an old black and white television. He described a crucial moment in the final when the television went into lines and the picture was too hard to make out. He said it often helped to improve the picture if someone stood on a certain part of the floor nearby, or by putting your hand round the TV in a certain way, but what they needed, he said, was an aerial like we have today. They had no idea how much better the picture could be. Could that be true for many of us, even though life seems fine in so many ways, could it be that we have not yet seen how good life can be? How inviting Jesus deep into our hearts can change us and our lives in good ways that we could never have imagined. This is the story that most Christians can tell you. We wish you all a very good 2018, and if you wonder what knowing Jesus could do for you, why not come and find out?

Alan Comfort, Rector

The importance of Christmas

May I start my Christmas piece by wishing you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas time from our church family. Yes, I do realise Christmas is still over three weeks away, and of course much must happen in that short space of time for us all to finally sit down and be ‘happy and peaceful’, but this is a special time of the year isn’t it? Our thoughts are clearly with those for whom this is a more difficult time, but for most of us this will be a celebration. Whether we are celebrating for the same reasons is another question altogether as Christmas means many different things to many different people, but Happy Christmas anyway.

Given all I have said, may I remind you why Christmas is important to me as a Christian. For me the purpose of Christmas is a celebration but the reason for this celebration is found in Luke Ch 2 v 10-11: "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” As the angels and shepherds sang or gazed in wonder, God had wonderful news that would cause them and us to rejoice and celebrate, and we will!

This celebration unravels the message of Christmas: God loves us. The most famous statement in the Bible is Jesus' explanation of why God sent him to earth: “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3 v 16) Can you hear that Christmas message: God loves us so much that he came to earth as a human, so we could get to know him and learn to trust him and love him back. Theologians call this the Incarnation. God became one of us, a human being, so we could understand what he is really like.

This is all lovely but what difference does the Christmas message make? The baby born in Bethlehem did not stay a baby. Jesus grew up and modelled for us the kind of life that pleases God, taught us the truth, paid for every sin we commit by dying on a cross, then proved that he was God and could save us by coming back to life. An American writer named Rick Warren said it like this in his little book ‘The Purpose of Christmas’: ‘When the Romans nailed Jesus to a cross, they stretched his arms as wide as they could. With his arms wide open, Jesus was physically demonstrating, "I love you this much! I love you so much it hurts! I'd rather die than live without you!" The next time you see a picture or statue of Jesus with outstretched arms on the cross, remember, he is saying, "I love you this much!”

Come and hear more. Come and celebrate. Come and worship this Christmas.

Alan Comfort, Rector

Courage

Courage is something you hope you have but don’t really know until the moment arrives. The horrific gun attack on thousands of people at the Route 61 Harvest Music Festival in Vegas senselessly took 59 lives injuring over 500 more. One of the injured was a man named William King who bravely lay on top of his wife Kimberley to protect her as bullets rained in on the crowd, taking a bullet to his back centimetres from taking his life. Such courage deserves to be remembered with the name of the killer forgotten forever.

The Battle of Passchendaele ended on the 6th November one hundred years ago. In his War Memoirs published in 1938, Prime Minister David Lloyd George wrote: "Passchendaele was indeed one of the greatest disasters of the war ... no soldier of any intelligence now defends this senseless campaign”. Around 500,000 men on all sides lost their lives with the greater number being British. A senseless part of the war perhaps, but so many brave men lost their lives following commands and fighting for our freedom. Swamped by the mud that literally swallowed up many of them, they fought for little, but they achieved so much for us. We remember them at this time.

The Welsh poet known as Hedd Wyn died on the very first day of the battle of Passchendaele, he wrote this poem;

Alas, this is an age so mean
That everyman is made a Lord,
For all authority's absurd
When God himself fades from the scene.

As quick as God is shown the door
Out come the cannons and the sword:
Hate on hate on brother poured
And scored the deepest on the poor.

The harps that once could help our pain
Hang silent, to the willows pinned.
The cry of battle fills the wind
And blood of lads - it falls like rain.

History records such senseless moments but to this we so often return. Years of peace can quickly be replaced by the folly of human stupidity, as we repeat the same mistakes once again ‘when God himself fades from the scene’ as Wyn describes it. The Christian faith reminds us why, because sin lives in us. The same sin that causes us to do the very thing we shouldn’t, the very thing that can destroy that most precious to us. That sin lives in us, just as it did it still does, and there remains only one answer as the Christian faith teaches: Jesus gave His life for ours. He died that our sin might be forgiven by God and our lives changed forever. Why not come and remember at St. Mary’s this coming Remembrance Sunday 10.45am. (12th November).

Alan Comfort, Rector

Thanks to God!

This morning I awoke full of thanks to God. I’m not sure why today and not every morning, but today I looked up towards God and not down to all my struggles. King David describes such a moment in Psalm 145 v3; ‘Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.’ Taking a moment to look up as I put it, or to notice everything around you is life giving. Everything around us is a gift, isn’t it? Not ours because we deserve it and not ours because we have made and control it, but a gift. Extraordinary advances in technology falsely convince us now that the world revolves around us, but life is still out of our hands. Surely this is the lesson of hurricane Irmer, or the bomb damage on a London Underground train recently? Life is as fragile as it ever was, but I believe one constancy exists: God. Not everyone agrees with this conclusion, but a God-framed view of the world makes sense to me.
Noticing and celebrating are vital parts of our lives and we as churches need little excuse to do so. As a benefice, we recently celebrated the re-opening of St. Mary’s Church with an amazing service of praise and thanksgiving to God. On Saturday 4th November from 8.30-10am, 'St. Mary’s at the School', in partnership with Roger de Clare School, are welcoming former professional footballer Linvoy Primus MBE to speak at a family breakfast. Why not come and hear Linvoy speak of his recent football career, as well as his faith in God and how it helps him. (For catering purposes, please let us know if you're coming, how many adults and children and how many require the vegetarian option, by emailing Marion Smith on benefice.administrator@ubsms.org..uk).
Perhaps this is the question that constantly needs answering; does having a faith in God really help us? Why not come and decide for yourself?

One last thing, as we thank God for all we see around us, we also remember those we miss and see no longer. They are in our thoughts every day but sometimes it’s helpful to come together to remember them. Our special ‘Service of Memories’ is at 3pm on Sunday 5th November at St. Mary’s. Be assured of a special welcome as we remember our loved ones, no matter how recent or distant this loss is. If you would like us to read out the name of your loved one, please email Marion on benefice.administrator@ubsms.org.uk

Alan Comfort, Rector

You are invited!

We as a church family are full of excitement as preparations gather pace for the re-opening of St. Mary’s church on Sunday 10th September. The church being closed for nearly four months has challenged what we unknowingly take for granted; that someone unlocks the church doors every morning and countless jobs are lovingly carried out by too many people to mention. But moving to Roger de Clare School for our Sunday worship has confirmed what we knew to be true, that St. Mary’s is at heart an amazing group of people loving God, who happen to meet in a very special Grade 1 Listed church building. Jill and I certainly experienced this recently, when Jill suffered a frightening infection in her face through an initial tooth abscess. The terrible pain and visits to Guy’s Hospital were met by countless meals left at the doorstep, overwhelming offers of help, and continuous prayer! Thank you. (Ollie and I loved the food)

Of course buildings do hold a special place in our hearts, but people hold our dearest memories. The re-opening of St. Mary’s and the unveiling of several wonderful background improvements, cannot compare with the personal memory of my father who died in September two years ago, or little Charlie Gard who tragically died of a genetic disorder after just eleven months of life, but our wonderful church building will continue to play host to many more of ‘our’ memories in the future.

At 10.45am on 10th September a special celebration service will take place at St. Mary’s. Why not come? We can announce the return of our much loved former Vicar Revd. John Pelley and his wife Audrey who will be taking part in the service. Although Revd. David Payne and his wife Jo are unable to be with us due to current parish commitments; we will be honouring David who spearheaded the PCC that first dreamed up this project. We hope a full church will experience the best of St. Mary’s; glorious worship of God and a glass of fizzy to mark the next step in our desire to show and share Jesus to all who live near or come to visit us.

Alan Comfort, Rector

Community

It is difficult to write something this month without referring to recent tragedies. Since I last sat down to write for this newsletter the Manchester Arena, London Bridge and Finsbury Park terror attacks have all taken place, not to mention the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire that claimed so many innocent lives. I imagine you feel just as overwhelmed as I do knowing there seems so little we can do. Some of us will pray for the families, others from the same desire to do something to help will offer whatever is right for them. It seems to me that the majority of people in our country, from faith groups or no faith at all, share a desire to show that love is greater than hate, and love will not be defeated.

Sadly, such horrific events do remind us that evil exists in our often beautiful world and thrives on exploiting our differences or should I say distorting our differences. Yes it is true that Christian beliefs are different to Muslim, or a socialist ideology, or a secular approach, but our ideological differences should never result in hatred and separation but a common love for all. It seems to me that this is the message of the past four weeks, in fact the hope of these past weeks. We are one community bringing different beliefs and gifts to one another for the good of all. It is the Christian belief that evil will continue until Jesus returns, but love will not give way before his victorious return. 1 John Chapter 4 v 7 says; ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.’ v8; ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ Many bad things have happened in history claiming to be done in the name of God, but no evil act can ever represent the heart of my God. Jesus said the greatest commandment is; ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart ……… and love your neighbour as yourself,’ (Matthew 22). We join together as a community, no matter what our different perspectives are, to look after one another in love.

As I wish you a peace filled and joyful July and August, I am uncertain what our news stories will be. No matter what happens, remember, we can overcome whatever evil brings. On Saturday 17th June over 120,000 events took place across our country under the umbrella of ‘The Great Get Together.’ All these events were planned in memory of the beautiful but tragically murdered MP Jo Cox. She believed in the power of community as her memorable maiden speech in Parliament expressed; ‘We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.’ May we continue to prove her right!

Alan Comfort, Rector

Temptation and Prayer

During my football career back in the 80's I know I didn't experience the exact same dilemmas modern sports people face today. With the clever advances in the production of performance enhancing drugs, the temptation to 'risk' everything to achieve your dream is clearly too much for some to resist. In my day choosing to eat steak and chips three hours before a big match or some modern version of healthy pre-match food like scrambled eggs on toast was the extent of my dilemma. I always chose the wrong option and struggled round the pitch for the ninety minutes as those who watched me will testify to.

So here's my question; is Maria Sharapova a drug cheat or not? The facts state that Sharapova has recently finished a two year ban that was reduced to fifteen months on appeal, for taking a banned substance called meldonium. So the answer is yes. Well, yes but no. She was wrong to be taking meldonium when tested at the Australian Open in 2016, but she had previously taken this drug for over ten years whilst it was not on the banned list. She says she took the drug for health reasons but the drug can aid performance hence the reason for it now being banned. For those who see the world only in black and white she is a cheat, but it could be an innocent mistake. I'm not really sure. It's certainly easier to call Lance Armstrong a drug cheat. He won the Tour de France on seven consecutive years, but later was found to have cheated through drug use all this time and was stripped of his titles.

Could you ever be tempted to risk everything to achieve your dream? We remember Jesus was tempted but did not sin, so being tempted is not the same as doing the wrong thing but wrong things do seem to call out to us in various ways. So being tempted by wrong ideas is not new, but I wonder if I can tempt you with good help?
Numerous scientific studies have shown that if we want to be as healthy as we possibly can, there are three things we need to do: exercise, eat well and lose some pounds, and thirdly pray. According to a University of Rochester study, (USA), it was found that 85% of people facing serious illness pray because it helps. Other studies show that if you pray regularly, for 20 minutes each day perhaps, you are 40% less likely to have high blood pressure and three times more likely to recover from a serious heart operation.

Prayer works in many different ways. Of course I believe this but why not try it with me? Could you get a cup of tea at the beginning of each day, sit quietly, then thank God for five things that have blessed you the day before or throughout your life, then ask God to help with five things/people you are worried about. Being thankful, sharing our problems, and asking God to help seems to make a profound difference. Could this be a 'risk' worth taking?

Alan Comfort, Rector

True or not?

Reading the letters printed in local newspapers is both revealing and interesting. Just this week I read one such letter regarding the Easter Story and whether it is possible to believe it is true? He/she writes ‘I understood that religious belief only required faith to support it.’ ‘Surely it is reasonable to say we believe what we want to believe regardless of the need for the truth.’ (Walden Local 20 April 2017) Of course it is possible that some people ‘believe’ without being sure something is true, but this claim is not isolated to Christians only. Most of us believe what the experts say on a daily basis: like our doctor or electrician, even when we have no idea whether they are right. But having ‘faith’ in them does not mean there is no truth.

John Chapter 20 describes the moment when Jesus, who the Bible tells us was raised up from death, appeared to His disciples. Thomas was a trusted friend but he wasn’t there when Jesus came to them. When they told him, Thomas said he could not believe unless he saw for himself, unless he put his hands where the wounds would have been. Did his ‘doubts’ change the ‘truth’ of what the others saw? Of course not. It happened. 1 Corinthians chapter 15 verse 6 tells us the risen Jesus appeared to over 500 people before he ascended into heaven. Ever since, countless lives have been changed by meeting Jesus. Some need little proof, they just trust in Him, others have studied the scriptures asking the deep questions of life and concluded exactly the same. Truth is arrived at and understood in different ways whilst remaining unchanged!

Over the next five weeks our churches are trying to answer the ‘true or not’ question in different ways. We have a new ten week Alpha Course starting that questions whether we can logically believe the central claims of the Christian faith. Why not come? Ask those questions that stand in the way of faith. (Ring Alan 01920 318864 to book a place). Or why not come to hear ‘Tough Talk’ on 21st May, 3pm at Roger de Clare School. “Tough Talk’ was started many years ago by Arthur White. Arthur was a World Power Lifting Champion; a seriously dangerous guy and drug cheat who walked away from his family, before something incredible happened. He met Jesus and was changed. Why not come and hear some amazing stories of how God can change lives? Lastly, our Pentecost Prayer Sunday is on 4th June. The Archbishop of Canterbury has challenged the churches to pray. Many are committing to pray for five people to overcome their struggles or put their trust in Jesus. Then on 4th June at our services and throughout the day we will be offering different ways of praying with a focus on the General Election on 8th June also. Prayer changes people. Whether you believe this or not doesn’t change the fact that it is true. Why not come and get involved or question…..

Alan Comfort, Rector

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