Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lent at St Peter and St Paul

This year sees the earliest Easter since 1913! That means that Lent starts early too, and Lent groups will begin on Thursday Feb 7th - by which time we should have just about finished eating the Christmas leftovers...
This year's course is entitled "Practising Faith: the things Christians do and why they do them." We'll be exploring five different Christian practices - Baptism, Communion, social action, sharing faith and rituals around death and dying.

There will be three groups all meeting on Thursdays in Seal Vicarage:
Group 1 will meet from 10-11.30 am
Group 2, which is especially for those with small children - bring them with you and we'll chat while they play - is from 1- 2.30 pm
Group 3 is from 8-9 pm

If you'd like to come please sign the list in church, or email me to book a place.

New Year 2: Junior Church Council

The adults in the church have their say through the Parochial Church Council, but the children in the congregation don't at the moment have a way of voicing their own opinions. This is about to change, with the inaugural meeting of Seal's Junior Church Council, on Jan 13th after the 10 am service. Any child of school age can come along to the meeting which will be in the Lady Chapel - we can talk while the adults drink coffee. Parents are welcome too - but they mustn't say anything! I am hoping that this will provide a forum for our church children to express their opinion on the way we do things at Seal. Meetings will happen once a term.

New Year 1 : Summer Music to chase away the winter blues

There will be a short Wind Quintet Concert (45 mins) on Saturday 26th Jan at 6 pm in the church hall ( note the venue). The programme will include Samuel Barber’s “Summer Music” and other pieces on a summery theme to chase away the winter blues! The quintet consists of Caroline Ardron (flute) Nick Theobald (oboe) Sue Bishop (clarinet) Philip Le Bas (bassoon) Adrian Wheeler (horn) - and in case you wonder, the bassoonist is my best beloved. Admission is free - there will be a plate out for donations to church funds.

Merry Christmas

I am just beginning to surface from the Christmas festivities here. Inevitably I tend to heave a sigh of relief at this point that there were no disasters. No one burnt themselves on the Christingles, the Crib service didn't descend into total mayhem ... but I hope that in the midst of all the busyness we have also been able to hear the song of the angels and share in the wonder of the shepherds .

I am very grateful to all who help over Christmas - Kevin, who preached at the Midnight service, Rosemary, who works so hard behind the scenes as well as helping to lead worship, churchwardens, choir, organist, flower arrangers... and many others. Thanks to all, too, who sent cards and gifts to Philip and me - they are a real encouragement.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Post Office Closure

Sadly it has been announced that Seal Post Office will close just after Christmas. To help those who might be most affected Peter Mountfield has written a leaflet, with a little assistance from me, with information about what those who draw their pensions and benefits in cash can now do.
It gives details of alternative post offices and how to get to them, but also information about opening a bank account, so that pensions and benefits can be paid directly into it. There is also information available from the Financial Services Authority here.

The leaflet is available online here, from the post office until it closes, from (we hope) the library and in the church porch. If you know anyone to whom it might be helpful, please take one and pass it on.

What's on for Christmas?

You can find details of our Christmas services here. The Christingle and Sunday School nativity are this Sunday (16th) at 10 am. The traditional Carol Service is on Sunday 23rd at 6.30pm. Christmas Eve sees the Crib service at 4pm and the Midnight service starting at 11.30pm, with Carols from the choir from 11 pm onwards.
On Christmas Day our All Age communion service is at 10 am, with a story in place of a sermon.

At the last minute we have had a booking from the Cambridge Christmas Consort, a group of talented young and emerging professional singers and instrumentalists. They are giving a concert on Saturday 22nd at 7.30 in the church. Tickets are £7.50 from Seal Post Office, on the door, or from me. I've heard very good things of this group, who have performed each year in Wrotham Church until this year.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Proposed closure of Seal Post Office - download a petition form here

Many people in the village were shocked and dismayed to hear that the post office was one of those scheduled for closure. It is clear that it isn't currently financially viable, and this seems to be the main reason why it has been chosen for closure - it just doesn't get enough trade. However, for many of those who do use it, it is a lifeline. Apart from the obvious things like posting parcels, there are still people who need to use it to collect benefits in cash, or to get cash from their bank accounts - there's no cash machine in the village or anywhere near it.

As ever, those who will suffer most tend to be those who may already find life a struggle - elderly or disabled people and those who cannot afford to run a car. Around 12 % 1 in 9) of the households in the village don't have a car - a surprisingly large number. There is a bus service but anyone who uses it, as I do, will know that it is rather patchy, especially in the afternoons. There are no bus shelters in the centre of the village, or at the next nearest local post offices, leaving people sometimes facing a long wait in the wind and the rain for a bus.

There are alternatives, though - something which is not entirely clear from the official literature the Post Office has distributed. Mobile post offices can be provided, or "hosted" services, using existing community buildings. A petition has been drawn up, asking the Post Office network managers to consider such options for Seal. You can sign this petition in the church or in Highland Printers in the High Street. You could also download a copy here, and gather some signatures from those around you. Simply send me the petition form by 1st Nov and I will send it on to the Post Office for their consultation deadline of 12th Nov.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Trouble in the Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion, as most people are probably aware, has been in more than usual turmoil recently. I have written a little about this in this month's Parish Magazine . In brief, following the consecration of Gene Robinson, a gay man living in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner, as Bishop of New Hampshire, many Anglicans in other parts of the world, as well as some in the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) have been protesting vehemently. It is an immensely complicated situation, made more difficult by the actions of other provinces of the Anglican church who have now consecrated bishops to minister to congregations in ECUSA who are unhappy about the church's liberal stance on homosexuality. Normally it would be unthinkable for national churches to trespass on the territory of others; while we support each other as members of the Anglican Communion, we also recognise each others' independence.

There are multiple arguments involved; about church government, the interpretation of the Bible, the nature of truth, the nature of unity, and, of course, human sexuality and its expression.
The Anglican church has traditionally been very good at containing a wide variety of opinion and practice (we are the original "broad church"!), but there now seems to be an increasing likelihood of a split, not only between national churches of the Anglican Communion but also within them. There are pressures being brought to bear on church leaders, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, to insist on far tighter control on theological and moral issues, with far more closely defined boundaries of what is acceptable in doctrine and practice than hitherto. Queen Elizabeth I famously said that the Church of England should not be in the business of "making windows into mens' souls". The bitter turmoil of religious dissent had marked her own life and caused immense pain and suffering to her nation. While she tried to unite people into one church, she knew the danger of trying too tightly to define what people believed. The Church of England had been born out of a conviction that theological understanding and practice could and should change over time. The government of the church locally rather than from Rome, the Bible and liturgy in English, the abolition of requirement for clerical celibacy - all these had come in in her own lifetime, and each had aroused fierce controversy which had cost many lives on each side. She knew well that what some call an insistence on maintaining a changeless truth can very easily slip into religious intolerance, with disastrous results for all involved.

Everyone will have their own opinions on the rights and wrongs of the issues involved in this dispute. What matters is that we are all aware of the possible implications of the current situation and the threats to the traditional Anglican values of openness, inclusivity and the willingness to consider changes in doctrine and practice over time. If these are things we value they will also be things we will have to speak up to support in the time that lies ahead.

You can read more from Ekklesia, Thinking Anglicans, or the Church Times.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Harvest 2007

Harvest Festival is just around the corner - Sunday October 7th - and plans are afoot for our celebrations. Seal School will be coming along for their Harvest Service on Friday 5th at 1.30, and we're all invited down to the school for tea afterwards! (Sign the list at the back of church to say you are coming)
Our own Harvest Supper and Games night will take place at Seal School on Saturday 6th at 6.30pm. Bangers and mash (with veggie options), apple pie... and all for £5 (£2.50 for children).
The following day we will be giving thanks for the harvest in our morning service, an all-age communion service, which we hope some of the Beavers from Seal's newly formed group will be able to come to.
This year, instead of asking for gifts of food, we'll be asking for cash donations for the Poverty and Hope appeal, organised by Rochester Diocese. You can find out more about this initiative, which raises money for a variety of projects overseas and at home here.
We're changing our pattern of Harvest giving because it was increasingly difficult to sell the produce we were given and some of the packets and tins which we wanted to give away weren't really appropriate for this. It is more practical to give cash, and it means that those to whom it is given can use it in the way that is best for them.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Autumn and Winter at St Peter and Paul

The gloomy truth is that the nights are getting longer, the colours of autumn are creeping into the trees, and whatever might have passed for the summer is on its way out. However, at St Peter and St Paul, this simply means that all sorts of good things are on the way!
The Harvest supper and games night on the 6th Oct at Seal School, Harvest festival in church the next day. Special services for All Saints when we remember those who have shone in the church, All Souls, when we remember and pray for those who are special to us who have died. Remembrance Sunday, Advent (with new Advent "Breathing Space" services this year) and, of course, Christmas.
You can find more about all these services and events by clicking here.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Getting back into the swing of things...

It hasn't felt like much of a summer , but it's already August 19th. Schools will go back soon, and the lull of the holiday season will come to an end. I'm planning events for the autumn and winter - watch this space for more details - but in the meantime, here are a couple of things you might like to get involved in.

PETANQUE/ BAT AND TRAP AFTERNOON at the Crown pub. Never played Petanque or Bat and Trap? Come along and try your hand on September 9th at the Crown (starting 3pm) . No expertise necessary – a fun afternoon for anyone, in aid of church funds. Tickets £2.50 (£1.50 children). Tea, coffee and home-made cake provided (I expect stronger liquids could also be purchased…) Please sign the list in church if you’d like to come. More details from Barbara Martin or any of the events committee.

CHARITY GOLF DAY for Sevenoaks Area Youth Trust and Youth Befriending 121. There will be a Charity Golf Day on September 20th at Lullingstone Golf Course. The entrance fee is £39.50 and includes breakfast and lunch. The two charities which will benefit work with teenagers in the area and do wonderful work on a shoestring. If you enjoy golf and would like to support them, there are more details on flyers at the back of church or at

ANNUAL SPONSORED BIKE RIDE/WALK. This takes place on Sept 8th this year. Money raised is divided equally between Seal and Friends of Kent churches, which supports churches across the area. We need cyclists and walkers, and people to welcome those who visit our church. Welcomers can also now be sponsored! If you would like to help in any way please sign the relevant lists at the back of church or contact Nicky Harvey.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Patronal Festival: a splendid weekend

We've had a splendid weekend! Despite persistent rain, and the road into Seal being closed by roadworks, our Patronal Festival was enjoyed by all.

Thursday and Friday were a flurry of flowery activity, with much laughter and mutual support as we all wrestled with Oasis and greenery. By the time we launched the festival with an informal concert, given by the choir and friends on Friday the church was full of extraordinary displays of flowers. There weren't any rules for the festival, so there was a glorious variety from the exhibitors. Grand arrangements and tiny arrangements, children, adults, experienced arrangers and complete novices. You can find more photos of the event here, but I didn't get everything on camera, so if you've got more, or better, photos please send them along.

Throughout the day on Saturday we had visitors in the church - it helped that we were about the only local event happening undercover! A request for "any spare plants" for a plant sale had produced half a garden centre's worth of vegetation, and I had my hands full most of the day selling it off. We still had plenty at the end, though, so Sunday's worshippers were all instructed to take a plant home if they could. Many thanks to those who provided and served refreshments on Saturday. They were much appreciated by the weather-beaten visitors.

Sunday's Patronal festival and Parish lunch set a suitably festive mood, though the weather refused to join in, and there was no way we could eat outside in the Vicarage garden. Thank you to the Events committee for the delicious food , which tasted just as good indoors as out, and to Nicky Harvey who organised games for the children (who didn't mind the wet grass and occasional showers!)

Finally a festival evensong rounded off the weekend. Daniel and the choir summoned up their last reserves of energy to provide beautiful music as ever.

Many people made this weekend a success - both within the church and beyond it. Thank you to you all.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Flower Festival

Our Flower Festival is just a few weeks away , from June 29th - July 1st. More than a dozen organisations and individuals are taking part, including contributions from local children's groups and the school. Do come along and join in the weekend's activities, which include a musical opening event on Friday evening, with wine and nibbles and an auction of a picture by Margaret Mountfield.

On Saturday the church will be open, and refreshments served from 10 am to 4 pm. There will be a plant sale starting at 10 am (until the plants are sold!). From 5pm at the school there will be an evening of merriment with a 70's theme, a hog roast, beer tent, stalls etc...
On Sunday we shall have our Patronal Festival Eucharist in the morning, followed by a Parish Lunch in the Vicarage garden and Festival Evensong with music from the choir.

I shall then lie down in a darkened room for about a month...

Do come and join in, if you can make it. I have just heard that Saturday 30th is the day when the council have decided to resurface the only road into Seal from the A25, which might make life interesting! However, it is still possible to get here, either from Kemsing, or by going through Seal and taking the next left. Keep turning left, and you will eventually bring you to the church. Medals will be awarded to anyone who sucessfully negotiates the obstacles!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Farewell to Pauline

We were sad to bid farewell to Pauline Cameron yesterday. She has played a vital role in the church as a member of the choir and of the PCC, school governor etc. etc. - too many tasks to mention! - for 15 years now, and been a good friend to many in the congregation. She and Bob have recently retired and are moving up to Whitby, where they are planning to keep chickens and alpacas and generally enjoy the great outdoors! Thank you, Pauline, for all you have done - we wish you and Bob well for the future. Pauline has asked me to put her address here - Wheelhouse Cottage, Newholm, Whitby, N. Yorkshire, YO21 3QR - along with an invitation to all her friends to come and visit.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Desmond Tutu on Climate Change

There was a thoughtful and passionate piece on climate change and its effect on the third world in today's Guardian newspaper by Desmond Tutu, former Archbishop of Cape Town. The text of the article is here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Something worth seeing

I visited a fascinating exhibition this week at the British Library, next to Kings Cross/St Pancras. The "Sacred" exhibition brings together a wealth of beautiful copies of the sacred books of Christianity, Judaism and Islaam. If you are interested in how these books came to be written, and how they have been passed on through the ages, this exhibition will fascinate you , as it did me. The exhibits are often beautiful in their own right, intricately illuminated works of art, but the exhibition also explains in a very accessible way how the three faiths have regarded and used their scriptures. Even better news is that the exhibition is free (though you do need a ticket, and the British Library recommends reserving one in advance, which you can do on their website.) Sacred runs until 23rd Sept, so there's plenty of time to see it. While you're there, don't miss the permanent exhibition of the British Library's treasures, in the Ritblat gallery.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Breathing Space

We held the first of our new "Breathing Space" Communion services on Sunday evening. This new, contemplative Communion service includes lots of silence, few words and just a little recorded music, as well as a chance to light candles. Despite it being "low Sunday" when congregations are traditionally small, we were packed out in the Lady Chapel, running out of booklets and seats, which was a delightful surprise - "Breathing Space" had been an attempt to re-think the evening Communion service because numbers had dropped so low that it was hardly viable. If numbers continue at this level, we shall have to move back into the choir stalls of the main church (either that or the congregation will have to put their names down at birth for a seat at the service!)
The text of the short thought that I delivered is here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happy Easter!

Thank you to all who made our Holy Week and Easter events and services so special; to Dan and the choir for wonderful music through the week, culminating in a beautiful Festal Evensong on Easter Day; to the flower arrangers who created such a colourful show in the church; to those who helped with the children's craft activities on Good Friday (see the poster and pew ends below for a taste of what we got up to), and to readers, churchwardens, sidespeople and others too numerous to mention.
Here are a few pictures to the right and below, taken on Easter Monday, of the church in all its Easter glory. We continue to celebrate Easter, of course, for many weeks to come (the Sundays are called "Sundays OF Easter" not "Sundays AFTER Easter". And there is a sense in which we should be celebrating Easter all year round - we are an "Easter People" - God calls us to discover his Easter freedom and resurrection in the whole of our lives. You can find the sermon for Easter Sunday here.

The children made pew ends , proclaiming "Christ is risen! Alleluia!"

Monday, March 19, 2007

Holy Week and Easter


Holy Week will soon be upon us (Palm Sunday is April 1st). There is a lot going on at St Peter and St Paul during the week - something for everyone I hope - as we recall the events of the week leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection. This isn't just an attempt at historical reconstruction though, and it certainly shouldn't be about wallowing in the past. The events of Holy Week should be a window for us not only into ancient history, but into our own times too. In this week we see the best and worst of humanity. We see the fickleness of friends, the calculating cruelty of oppressive regimes and vested interests, courage in the face of persecution and love which transcends death. There is the utter despair of the cross, and the amazing birth of new hope in the resurrection. As we pray our way through the week we think not only of Christ and those around him, but also (and much more importantly) of those who suffer and struggle in our own times. For many this week is a vital moment for re-focussing their lives, opening their eyes both to the pain and to the joy of human existence.
Why not come and share in it with us?
You can find details of all our services and activities during Holy Week here .

The week begins on Palm Sunday with a procession from the Lych gate into the church ,the blessing of the new palm crosses, and a dramatised reading of the whole of the story of the arrest and crucifixion of Christ in place of a sermon.
On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings there are services of Compline at 8pm - a quiet service of prayers and readings ton end the day in the Lady Chapel. On Maundy Thursday there is a communion service at 8pm which ends with "Tenebrae" in the Lady Chapel, which will be lit with 12 candles (the rest of the church is in darkness). We hear twelve short Bible readings, following the story of the arrest of Jesus, after each of which one candle is extinguished until we are in darkness. It is a dramatic and moving ending to the service.
On Good Friday there is a chance for all ages to use the church for reflection. There will be children's workshops in the morning with Easter crafts and activities. From 12 noon there will be a variety of adult focusses for prayer around the church, inviting us to reflect on the story of the crucifixion. This will be something to take at your own pace and in your own way. If you simply want to come and sit in the peace of the church, that is fine. A traditional Good Friday service of hymns readings and prayers from 2.30-2pm will conclude the afternoon.
On Easter Sunday morning we shall light the new Paschal candle, and candles for all the congregation from it, as we celebrate with joy Christ's resurrection from death.
If you've never come along to Holy Week services before, why not try it out this year. Come and join us - all are welcome!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Flower Festival

We are holding a Flower Festival as part of our celebrations for the feast of our patron saints - Peter and Paul - at the end of June. (June 29th-July 1st). The theme will be "Celebrating Seal" and anyone can take part - individuals, voluntary organisations and businesses. You don't have to be an expert - it isn't a competition. If you are interested in contributing a display, however large or small, let me know, and I'll send you more details after Easter. You can download a letter about the festival from our website here.
Fairtrade Fortnight begins today. St Peter and St Paul is a Fairtrade Church - committed to using fairly traded products wherever possible, for example, for our after church refreshments. Find out more about Fairtrade and the difference it makes to growers here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

We woke to a blanket of snow this morning. For more pictures, click here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Lent at St Peter and St Paul

Lent at St Peter and St Paul

This Lent we shall be studying a three week course called "All are welcome". We'll be looking at the God who welcomes us and our welcome for him in our lives, as well as our welcome for one another. Drawing on our own experiences as both hosts and guests we'll be thinking about what it means to welcome and be welcomed, why we sometimes feel like "fish out of water", and the challenges of welcoming God and others into our lives.
The course will be repeated in the morning, afternoon and evening of Thursdays 8th, 15th and 22nd March (10-11.30am, 1.15-2.45pm or 8-9.30m You can find out more, and look at the course booklet on the church website here.
It goes without saying that "All are welcome" at this course - you don't need to be an expert - we shall all be learning from each other.
Sign up at the back of church or by emailing me or phoning 01732 762955. There will be a limit of 10 places per session, so sign up asap!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Faith and Fun!

Last Friday's "Faith and Fun" session for the under-fives and their carers was, indeed, fun! Five mums and half a dozen children, plus me, enjoyed a relaxed time with some simple songs, something to think about and an activity to join in with. We all drew round our hands on a tablecloth, and wrote our names in the outlines - anyone joining us in the future will be invited to do the same - to help us remember that God knows and loves each of us individually. "I will not forget you" God says in the Bible, "I have written your name in the palm of my hand" (Isaiah 49.15)
Tea, juice and biscuits followed, and some seriously creative Duplo models, as the grown-ups chatted and the children played.
If it sounds like the sort of thing you, or a family you know, might enjoy, why not come along to the next session on Friday Feb 23rd (and every fourth Friday in the month) from 1.30-2.30 in the church hall.
If you'd like a reminder of the date a few days beforehand, send me your email address and I'll contact you then.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sexual Orientation Regulations

Yesterday's news reports showed demonstrations outside parliament by religious groups opposing the new Sexual Orientation Regulations, which would forbid discrimination by people offering goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation, just as discrimination on grounds of race, gender or disability is now forbidden.
Perhaps it isn't surprising that some church groups are objecting to this new legislation. Many Christians hold strong views that homosexuality is wrong because it is forbidden in the Bible, though the Bible also forbids many other things, such as lending money at interest, which we have conveniently forgotten about, and it upholds institutions like slavery, which we have long ago decided is wrong. The Bible is a document of its time, and we cannot read it intelligently and gain from it if we treat it as if it were a simple set of instructions which can be plucked out of their historical and cultural context.

The problem is that it is easy for people to assume from the news reports that those opposing this new Bill speak for all or even a majority of Christians. The real picture is far more mixed. Many Christians are themselves gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, including many clergy who are giving faithful and valued service to the church. Many Christians who are not gay themselves wholeheartedly support gay couples who are trying to form good, loving relationships and would want to see these recognised and celebrated.

Everyone has their own views on these matters, and it is important that we hear all opinions, not just the voices of those who shout loudest.
The links below are to some of those other voices. You may also like to read a TUC document giving guidance on the Bill.

Ekklesia article on the Sexual Orientation Regulations
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement