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.
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
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 email@example.com..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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan Comfort, Rector
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
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
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
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
One of the many lovely things about living in our villages is the sense of community that exists. I regularly hear people, young and old, talk about ‘their’ church. St. Mary’s is indeed ‘your’ church whether you come every week or only occasionally and perhaps the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, will offer even greater encouragement to you; he once said this: 'The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.’ This is an inspirational quote every church could position perfectly at the bottom of emails sent or letters written, but Temple’s intention was full of unexpected challenge to the church if we dare take a closer look.
Our former Archbishop was questioning our common desire to create groups that suit and reflect us. Let me explain what I think he means with two simple examples: the first from my own personal experience and the second from the Bible itself. The first: after years of encouraging my Mum to go to church, she eventually went to her local village church. I was thrilled until she told me the story. She arrived a few minutes before the service was due to start, sitting near the back. A few moments later someone tapped my Mum on the shoulder and asked her to move because she was sitting in their seat. My Mum moved very quickly, dreadfully embarrassed as you can imagine. Guess what? Just as the service was about to begin someone else tapped my Mum on the shoulder and asked her to move yet again. She did, to her car and back home!
The second story is from the Bible. In Luke, chapter 19, Jesus was on his way to Jericho when he noticed a man up a tree. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector who unexpectedly wanted to meet Jesus. He caused misery in people’s lives and was probably disliked by many or even hated by some. Yet Jesus believed Zacchaeus was a man who needed a chance to change. Such stories are inspiring and offer hope to everyone who feels lost or beyond saving. However, the story doesn’t tell us how the followers of Jesus felt. Suddenly, they had to welcome and make space for a man they didn’t trust or like. Can you hear those words of our former Archbishop: Church is the only institution that exists for those who are not its members. It exists for everyone, the good and the bad, those like us and those not like us, that all may find the hope of Jesus. If you feel like Zacchaeus, then come to your church and find hope, and in so doing, challenge us to be the church that William Temple described all those years ago!
Alan Comfort, Rector
With the new year now in full swing, I wonder what has happened to those New Year’s resolutions? The difference between good intentions and absolute determination can be vast. A survey from the US claims that 45% of all Americans made New Year resolutions last year, but only 8% kept them. Good intentions, it seems, don’t hold our attention for long. My sister, on the other hand, is still going strong with her New Year ‘get healthy’ regime. Losing some weight and feeling better about herself will be nice but her reasons are wholly different. Our older sister who died back in September, and our Dad who died the previous year, both suffered from type 2 diabetes due to being overweight. My sister can hear the warning bells ringing as her weight goes up but she is determined to overcome. If you are trying to make a much needed change in your life, I want to encourage you to hang in there.
Christmas, although several weeks ago, was beautiful in Standon and Puckeridge. It started for us with a NEW ‘Walk in Nativity’ at Roger de Clare School with live animals and two hundred adults and children. This was quickly followed by our heavenly ‘Nine Lessons and Carols’ at St. Mary’s, led by our exceptional Benefice Choir. The Ralph Sadleir and Roger de Clare School Carol Services were equally beautiful, and our Christingle, Midnight Communion and Christmas Day Celebrations were all memorable moments in their own ways. May I take this opportunity to thank so many willing and committed people who make these activities possible and any others who serve our community unselfishly as so many do.
Back to those good intentions. Coming to church at Christmas can spark a desire to think our faith through. If Jesus really lived, died, and rose up from the grave, and by so doing can change our lives for good, then maybe it’s time to ‘come back’ to church, to read the Bible, to pray more and to give the notion of faith the chance to grow in us. Yet, such a thought often gets swallowed up like the rest of our New Year resolutions once the normal busyness takes over again. Eating, drinking and spending less may be very necessary for us but what about those deeper needs. Like the man who came to me this past year and said He needed to find God because he had tried everything else. The health service could not ultimately help him, other people could not help him, and he could not help himself. He needed God. Experience has shown me over many, many years that when someone needs God’s help he or she will always find it. This is more than a good intention. Talk to a Christian friend; come to church; ring my number. Faith helps.
Alan Comfort, Rector
Can you really believe Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States? Who would have guessed it? Well the writers of The Simpsons, Channel 4’s irreverent show, did. They predicted back in the year 2000 that Trump would be President. When the show’s creator Matt Groening was asked about this, he told The Guardian: “We predicted he would be president back in 2000 – but [Trump] was of course the most absurd joke name that we could think of at the time, and that’s still true. It’s beyond satire.” Despite the shock and widespread disbelief, I do hope he surprises us by being a good President because the world certainly needs him to be.
Such shocks remind us how little control we have in this life. The polls assured us that the UK would vote to remain in Europe but look what happened on June 23rd. Leicester City were 5000/1 to win the Premier League at the beginning of last season but fairy tale champions by May. Given the unpredictable times we live in, I’m glad I’m not a so called ‘expert’ who tells people what is about to happen when the ‘impossible’ seems more likely than absurd.
For some people, the ‘impossible’ part of the Christmas Story sits in the way of belief. In the Bible, Luke Chapter 1 tells us an angel appeared to Mary, who was engaged to be married to Joseph, and told her: “you will be with child and give birth to a son”. “How will this be” she asked, having never slept with her future husband. “Nothing is impossible with God” the angel tells her in verse 37. Note the passage does not say, ‘everything will be easy’, but ‘nothing is impossible’.
Could the next few weeks of your life help to mend old and painful wounds, or revive a tired and burnt out life? The Christmas hope is something magical and meaningful and very real. I remember many years ago receiving a call from a friend from my footballing days. Life had been tough for him and his family, which in part had led to his decision to put Jesus at the centre of his life. He had made mistakes but longed for his family to have a fresh start. He wondered whether things could ever be different. As he opened his Christmas present from his wife, he found a book about sharing your faith in Jesus, and written inside: ‘please may I be the first person you tell?’ That day the impossible happened. There is no doubt that life can be difficult for many of us, but grasping the possibilities God can make possible are just a prayer away. Why not welcome Jesus into your life, family and home this Christmas? Have a blessed and happy Christmas with love from all at St. Mary’s.
Alan Comfort, Rector