Monday, April 27, 2020

And in other news... Seal Church's weekly newsletter

...and in other news...

A weekly newsletter from St Peter and St Paul, Seal, to help us keep in touch with one another at this time. 
Dear Friends
Christ in the Stranger’s Guise

If you listened to our 
Sunday morning podcast this week, you’ll know that it focussed on the story of Jesus meeting two disciples as they walked wearily back to their home town of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem on the day of the resurrection. The sermon I preached on it is here.  I explored it further on the blog, and suggested some all age activities to explore it too. 

One of the most famous depictions of it here, by Caravaggio. In happier times you can see it in the National Gallery in London. There’s a great discussion of it in the video below.
It’s a story which has been explored and referenced often in poetry, prayer and song. A modern hymn which I very much like was written by Graham Maule and John L.Bell, from the Iona Community, set to the tune of “The Leaving of Liverpool” it reminds us that Christ comes to us “in the stranger’s guise”. We might encounter Christ in anyone we meet, if we have our eyes open to see him.
The words are here, so you can sing it for yourself if you know the tune, or there is an arrangement of it, below, which you might like to listen to.

1. From heaven to here and from here to heaven
Is a distance less than tissue thin,
And it's trod by him who, in the stranger's guise,
Is made known when he is welcomed in.

So come, Lord Christ in the stranger’s guise
Known both through scriptures and through broken bread
Your kingdom come and on the earth your will be done
By the people you’ve loved and you’ve led.

2. The folk who journey on the road with Christ
Are the ones who've left their selves behind.
Their song is taught them by the deaf and dumb;
Their horizon is shown by the blind.

3. The love that's shared along the royal road
Is a love not found when standing still.
It lives and grows wherever faith is known
As a movement grounded in God's will.

4. From heaven to here and from here to heaven
Is a distance less than tissue thin.
And it's trod by those who meet the risen Christ
As a stranger to be welcomed in.
Christ in the Stranger's Guise. Words Graham Maule and John L. Bell

Prayer of the week

The hymn draws also on a poem from the Celtic tradition (which I turned into an embroidery that hangs in the vicarage hallway)

I met a stranger yestere'en
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.
And in the sacred name of the Triune
he blessed myself and my house
my cattle and my dear ones
And the lark sang in her song
Often, often, often
comes Christ in the stranger's guise.
What are people up to at the moment?
It seems like many people have been enjoying the spring weather over the last week or so, getting out in the garden, or maybe discovering a bluebell wood if they can venture further. The picture on the right was taken on Seal Chart, just off the road from Seal to  Stone Street.

It’s set to rain this week, apparently, but I know that Martin Clews needs the rain for Stonepitts strawberries and raspberries, so we won’t begrudge him it!

Nonetheless, spring has definitely sprung. Whether you can get out for a walk,  have a garden or just a view from a window, there’s plenty going on in the natural world.
Hilary Curtis seems to be running a mini wildlife reserve at her home, and is giving regular updates on Facebook on the nest cam pictures of the blue tit in her nest box.

She’s also got not one but two hedgehogs visiting her. I have never seen a hedgehog at the vicarage, despite having log piles, leaf piles etc. Rabbits, which eat my plants, foxes, which eat the rabbits, but never a hedgehog, which might eat a few of the slugs and snails which are currently munching through anything they fancy. I have just watered the veg patch with nematodes, which usually works to knock out some of the slugs for a while, and I tried Slug Gone wool pellets around plants last year, which seemed to help, but a hedgehog would be better.

During our Sunday morning "Zoffee" chats (Zoom chats with coffee – bring your own coffee!), Ana Durling told us about the nature project she’d been doing about growing things and suggested egg shells and coffee grounds to put slugs off. I know the Durlings do a lot of gardening (and have chickens – Ana brought one to the Zoom session to show us) so I am sure they know a thing or two about what might work! (Esme has been busy too, and let us see her wonderful WW2 diorama.)

If you’d like some pointers on making the most of the natural world available to you, here are some links you might like to check out.
The Woodland Trust have an 
A-Z of British trees, to help you identify that tree you can see from the window. They have some good resources for families too (or anyone else who'd like some "hands on" activities.)

They also have a live 
“osprey-cam”, which is filming, in real time, the activity in the nest of a pair of resident ospreys, Louis and Aila, from the heart of an ancient Caledonian pine forest. While I’m sure Hilary would love to have ospreys in her back garden, I think she might find it a bit more of an inconvenience than blue tits!

British Trust for Ornithology are offering free membership at the moment, and various projects like their Gardenwatch bird recording project.

The RSPB have a 
bird song identification page  as well as lots of ideas for engaging with nature on our own doorsteps.
If you can’t hear the birds singing where you are (though they are making a pretty deafening racket in Seal, especially early in the morning, to my mind!) then you can listen via the RSPB birdsong app or 
webpage here.
As I compiled all this, I found I had a hymn running through my head, from my childhood. It will probably date me to share it) which I recall singing at school – “All Things which live below the sky”.
You’d have to be a certain vintage to know it, but I’ve always preferred it to the much better known “All Things Bright and Beautiful”. I discovered, as I tried googling it, that it seems everyone else was singing it to a different tune to the one I recall. I could only find it set to “Rodmell”, when I am quite sure we sang it to “Jackson” at my school. Am I the only one…? The words are below, and a youtube recording I found beneath it. The words were written by Edward John Brailsford (1841 -1921) a Wesleyan Methodist minister. As well as its description of the natural world, I love its message that “Beneath his heaven there’s room for all” and the prayer to God to “make me a friend of helpless things/ defender of the weak,” words which are needed as much now as ever. Why has "All things bright and beautiful" survived, while this song seems to have sunk into obscurity?

1 All things which live below the sky,
Or move within the sea,
Are creatures of the Lord most High,
And brothers unto me.
2 I love to hear the robin sing,
Perched on the highest bough;
To see the rook with purple wing,
Follow the shining plough.

3 I love to watch the swallow skim
The river in his flight;
To mark, when day is growing dim,
The glowworm's sil'v'ry light.

4 The seagull whiter than the foam,
The fish that dart beneath;
The lowing cattle coming home;
The goats upon the heath.

5 God taught the wren to build her nest,
The lark to soar above,
The hen to gather to her breast
The offspring of her love.

6 Beneath his heaven there's room for all;
He gives to all their meat;
He sees the meanest sparrow fall
Unnoticed in the street.

7 All-loving Father, King of kings,
The helper of the weak,
Make me a friend of helpless things,
Defender of the weak.
This is the tune everyone else seems to have sung it to!
This is the tune I am sure I sang it to as a child ! 
I know there are a lot of jigsaws being made around the parish – Philip is now on his second, though I think the vast expanse of trees in it are getting him down! Some of you will know that I have discovered a wonderful website where you can make your own online jigsaw puzzles, which is quite addictive…I made another one (just 70 pieces) last week, of a very familiar sight. You can find it here.

I know that many of you can hear the church clock chiming through the day and night. Here’s a poem I wrote about it recently. (Hint – count the words below each chime…)

For those who hear the church clock chime
A poem for lockdown

The church is locked,
but on a routine visit
 - I’m the only one allowed inside the building now,
and only then to check for fallen plaster -
I find
all is well,

and more,
the ancient stones still sigh out prayers
laid down by centuries of worshippers,
and angels dance,
“Go in peace.
He is not here, closed in these stones.
Wherever you are, you will find him.”

Later, lying in my bed
I hear the church clock chiming
tolling out its news;

Fear not.
Christ is risen.
Light shines in darkness.
Darkness has not o’ercome it.
Be strong and of good courage.
Faith, hope and love abide, these three.
I shall not leave you or forsake you.
Love one another, just as I have loved you.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
You have served me in the least of these my children.
Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of time.

Anne Le Bas Easter Monday 2020

Here are the references to the Bible passages which each chime ring in the poem One. John 20.19/  Two. Matthew 28.5 / Three. Luke 24.5 / Four John 1. 5/ Five. John 1.5 / Six. Joshua 1.9 /  Seven. 1 Corinthians 13. 13/ Eight. Hebrews 13.5/ Nine. John 15.12/ Ten. 2 Corinthians 3.17/ Eleven/ Matthew 25.40/ Twelve. Matthew 28.20

And finally...

If you think the wildlife in your garden needs an extra challenge… here’s inspiration from a man in Hitchin, Steve Barley, who has created an NHS themed squirrel assault course in his garden. To be fair, he has form for this, and has created all sorts of other courses over the years, but this one seemed very timely. The squirrels, of course, had no trouble at all fathoming it out!

Steve's pun-laden video. Enjoy!

Anne Le Bas

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sunday Worship April 26

Join us for our Sunday worship this week. The links are below.

Morning Worship Podcast        Morning Worship Service sheet
Evensong Podcast                    Evensong Service sheet

For those who can't use the internet, there is now a "dial a podcast" service, giving access by phone to the reading, talk and prayer from each Sunday morning's service. Please pass on the phone number to them - 01732 928061. Calls cost the normal rate for dialing an 01732 (Sevenoaks) number.

There will be a Zoffee - a Zoom Coffee meeting - at 11 am this morning. Drop in and say hello!
email for the link and password.

Today's morning service focusses on the story of two tired disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus, who are joined by a stranger as they walk along. We discover early on that he is Jesus, but they don't realise until he breaks bread with them at the end of the day. On the journey, though, he has explained to them how the death of Jesus could be part of God's plan, not the terrible disaster they have taken it for.

Why don't they recognise Jesus (this is a common theme in the resurrection appearances)? The implication of the Bible is that seeing Jesus for who he is takes more than just good eyesight - we also have to have the eyes of our hearts open, to be on the look out for him, ready to see him in the people and events we encounter.

There have been many paintings of the scenes in the story. The one I used to illustrate the podcast is attributed to Francois Verdier. It wasn't one I was familiar with, but I loved the energy in it, the sense that these disciples are completely caught up in the discussion they are having with Jesus as the penny starts to drop and their hearts start to lift.

Have you ever had conversations like this?
What made them special?

Probably the most famous depiction of this story is that by Caravaggio (there was another painting by him in last Sunday's blog post), which shows the moment when the disciples recognise Jesus "in the breaking of the bread" as the story puts it. Why then? Perhaps it is the familiarity of the gesture - something they've seen him do many times before - but again, their recognition has as much to do with what has been going on in their hearts as in their eyesight.

 This painting, part of the "Jesus Mafa" project comes from Cameroon. Local artists produced a series of paintings of Gospel stories set in their own time and place. (More about the project, and other paintings ) . Caravaggio, of course, had done the same thing, setting the stories in seventeenth century Italy - the clothes the disciples are wearing aren't first century Palestinian!

Imagine sharing a meal with Jesus in your own kitchen or dining room. How would you paint the scene? 

In the prayers in today's morning podcast, I included a prayer/poem which is special to me, one which I turned into an embroidery which hangs in the vicarage hallway. I thought you might like to see a
picture of it.
The text reads
I met a stranger yestere'en
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place.
And in the sacred name of the Triune
he blessed myself and my house
my cattle and my dear ones
And the lark sang in her song
Often, often, often
comes Christ in the stranger's guise.

Where might you meet "Christ in the stranger's guise" today?  Perhaps, to find him, you will need to look at everyone you encounter (in the flesh or online or on the phone) as if they might be Christ. I wonder how it would change our view of people if we did that all the time? 

All Age Ideas

  • I made a video earlier this week, telling the story of the road to Emmaus. You can find it on this blog here.

  • Make some "foot" art to remind you that Jesus always walks beside you. You could draw round your own feet, or the feet of everyone in your household, and decorate the drawings. You could make footprints with paint. You could make a poster to stick in your window with footprints on it, to thank those who are "going the extra mile" to help us at this time, walking alongside us - that might cheer up the postmen and women and delivery drivers who are bringing us the things we need. 
  • Invite Jesus to dinner with you. Make an invitation. Set a place at the table. Think about what you might give him to eat, and what you would want to talk about with him. How does it feel to do this? 
If you make something that you would like to share, take a photo of it and send it to me, and I will put it on our church social media. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The road to Emmaus - a story for the children of Seal Church and school.

Here's another video story for Seal's church and school children. It's the story of what happened on the Road to Emmaus, from Luke 24.13-39

Monday, April 20, 2020

And in other news...

...and in other news...

A weekly newsletter from St Peter and St Paul, Seal, to help us keep in touch with one another at this time. 
Dear Friends
I hope you are enjoying the spring weather (though it would be good if the chilly east wind would stop!). As I have been talking to people online and on the phone recently there seems to have been a great amount of gardening going on, for those with gardens, and those without have been sowing things on windowsills. It's the time of year when the world around us seems determined to grow, whatever else is happening. I've just put my tomato plants out in the greenhouse, where they will grow on and fruit, and the veg plot is starting to fill up too. It's a reminder that we really have arrived at Easter, even if we didn't have all the usual services to mark the moment. People have told me that they enjoyed the podcasts for Easter Sunday, and yesterday too, though, so I hope we are feeling at least a bit "Easterish". It has been especially good to be able to splice in readings and music from familiar voices at Seal. The grown-ups have been great, but I think Esme and Ana's spirited rendition of Psalm 148 on Easter Sunday won the prize for most "up-cheering" thing I heard! Links to the current week's worship podcasts are on the church website and blog, but you can listen to past ones at if you have missed any.

This Sunday just gone we focussed on the story of Thomas in the morning service. He missed seeing Jesus on the day of his resurrection, and said he wouldn't believe in him unless he could see and touch his wounds for himself. For that, he has been saddled with the title "Doubting Thomas" for centuries, but in fact, he was only asking for the same thing as the rest of the disciples had had, a real experience of Jesus. I explored what that might mean for us in my sermon yesterday if you want to know more.
As I thought about the story in preparation, I looked at some of the depictions of it in art. The most famous is probably by Caravaggio - see first picture below -, and I've included a video which talks about it below.

What's really noticeable in this picture is the way that Thomas and the other disciples (probably Peter and John) are focussed entirely on the wounds, almost like a forensic scientist might be. It's not a painting for the squeamish!
There are many other versions of this scene though, and I was particularly struck by the fact that in some of them, like the picture by Daniel Seiter - below left - and the manuscript illustration by Martin Schongauer - below right,  Thomas is looking at Jesus, not the wounds. It's as if he has realised that it's not the "scientific" proof that is most important to him, but the relationship he has with Jesus, the whole person, his friend. He stops looking for explanations, because the need for them melts away as he meets the person who has loved and changed him.

What do you think of these pictures? Which speaks to you most? 

Anne Le Bas
This video explores the famous picture by Caravagio of this week's Gospel story, the Incredulity of Thomas.
A favourite Easter Hymn to listen to. "Love is come again" sung by Ely Cathedral Choir.
Sevenoaks Foodbank
Reports from those who help at the Loaves and Fishes foodbank say that it is fairly well stocked at the moment, and though some helpers have had to self-isolate because of their age or health conditions, they have as many helpers as they can safely use, since they obviously have to maintain safe distances between them. If you do want to donate food, it is best if they take it to St John's Church hall on a Thursday between 1 and 2pm only. If you come across people in need, please let me know, however, even if they aren't on the foodbank's registers, and we will do what we can to help. 
Vanessa Griffiths sent along this lovely poem by E.E Cummings, and a photo she took of our little church. Thank you, Vanessa.

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying) children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness) 

Prayer of the week

Blessed are you, Sovereign God, our light and our salvation; to you be glory and praise forever! You led your people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, lighting their path before them. May we who walk in the light of your presence acclaim your Christ rising victorious, as he banishes all darkness from our hearts and minds, and praise you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Blessed be God forever.

This is the prayer we use as we light the Paschal Candle at the beginning of the Easter Sunday service. This year, that wasn't possible, but I lit it in the vicarage anyway! The candle is traditionally decorated with the year, and with the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of the Greek alphabet, reminding us that Jesus is with us always - in the past and the future, but also in this present moment too. 
A few people have kindly asked how they can continue to give to the church while we aren't able to hold public worship. If you normally give through the envelope scheme or by cash in the collection plate, you might like to think of taking out a standing order (form here)  or bank transfer (Account number 01377463. Sort Code 30 97 49). Gift aid forms are here

We know that many people are seeing a hit to their own income because of the lockdown, and wouldn't want anyone to feel they had to give if this was the case, but really appreciate those who can donate, as most church expenses, like insurance and stipends, continue during this time. You can also give by texting SEALCHURCH  to 70085 to donate through Donr. (Donr takes a commission of 5%, so if you can give by bank transfer that is better for us!)
If you have any questions, please contact our Treasurer, Vanessa Griffiths, who will be glad to help. 

And finally...

In case you are struggling to find ways to exercise without getting too close to others, here's what Dave Walker at suggests as a way round the problem...

Sunday, April 19, 2020

EASTERTIDE AT HOME: Sunday worship for Easter 2

The links to our Sunday worship today are here:
Morning worship
Morning worship service sheet

Evensong service sheet

On the morning of the second Sunday in Eastertide we traditionally hear the story of St Thomas, often called Doubting Thomas, because he wouldn't believe that Jesus had risen until he could see him for himself, wounds and all. He had missed the moment on Easter Day when Jesus first appeared to the disciples in he upper room where they were hiding.
A week later, Jesus appeared again, just for him, and invited Thomas to touch his wounds, but Thomas didn't need to. Just the sight of Jesus was enough. Thomas didn't just come to believe that Jesus was alive, but also declared that he was Lord and God.
It changed Thomas completely.

The picture below, by Daniel Seiter, painted around 1700 captures the moment when everything changed for Thomas. I particularly like the fact that, unlike many depictions of this scene Thomas is not looking at the wounds, but at Jesus. He though he needed physically to touch Jesus' scars to believe, but realises that it is the relationship he has with him that really matters.

This evening's service, a traditional service of said evensong from the Book of Common Prayer,  includes the famous story of Daniel in the Lion's den and the resurrection story from Mark's Gospel.

All age ideas

Margaret Pritchard-Houston tells the story of Thomas and shares some "wondering questions" here.

Resources to explore the story from Rootsontheweb 

Resources from Together at Home

Sunday, April 05, 2020

In their own words: Day 40

Romans 15. 5-7

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

These few verses sum up what Paul has been trying to do in this long letter. For all its complex theology, in the end it is a pastoral letter, intended to help the Roman Christians get along with each other. Jews and Gentiles alike have been welcomed by God, and because of that, they should welcome each other. They are as good, and as bad, as each other, and as much in need of God’s forgiveness and help as each other. Paul longs for a world in which the love of God, which he discovered in Damascus when Ananias welcomed him, is known by all. The church in Rome is called to model that love, a tough challenge then, and now too. We have a God who is “steadfast and encouraging” though, so we should not give up!

·         As we come to the end of these reflections, what picture of Peter and Paul have you formed? What will you take away from their words?

Saturday, April 04, 2020

In their own words: Day 39

Romans 12.9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

It is easy for a list like this to sound trite to us, because it is so familiar, the kind of thing we might find on an inspirational poster. In reality, though, Paul’s words are extremely challenging, especially when we consider them against the background of his life and eventual death. Blessing those who persecute you is easy when you aren’t actually being persecuted, for example. In Paul’s context it involved real pain and real death.

·         Read Paul’s words slowly. Which phrases do you find most challenging?

Friday, April 03, 2020

In their own words: Day 38

Romans 8.31-37

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Roman Christians were well aware of the dangers of following Christ. Intermittent waves of persecution had meant that many of them had probably seen friends and family killed. Paul had suffered much already, and would eventually be killed by the Romans, but he is confident in the face of suffering, because nothing can separate him from God’s love.

What sustains you in hard times? 

Thursday, April 02, 2020

In their own words: Day 37

Romans 8.26

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

Paul knows that the world is not as it should be, and longs for change. In the passage that precedes this, Paul has spoken about “the whole of creation groaning in labour pains”, waiting for God to bring to birth his new kingdom, “the revealing of the children of God.” But sometimes, for him, and for us, that change can seem to be a long time coming. Paul compares it to a woman in labour, knowing something good will happen, but going through pain in the process.  Sometimes we can’t even find the words to express what we feel and long for.
At these times, says Paul, God’s Spirit prays within us “with sighs too deep for words”. We don’t have to know what we want to say to God. He knows what is on our hearts.

·         Today, just sit with God and remind yourself that he knows what you feel and need. Can you trust that he hears you even when you can’t find the words you need?

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

In their own words: Day 36

Romans 2.1

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

Paul’s letter to the Romans has often been regarded as the summation of his theological thinking. It can feel complex and hard to understand, but it has been very influential in shaping Christian thought. Like many other letters, a major theme in it is the tension between Christians with Jewish ancestry and those who have come from non-Jewish (Gentile) backgrounds. Judgmentalism seems to have taken hold. In the first chapter, Paul talks about a number of lifestyles and behaviours which would have seemed shocking to his hearers, but just when they might have stoked up a bank of disapproval he turns the tables on them, pointing out that while they are tut-tutting at others, they are doing things just as bad, judging others in a way which is destructive and harmful.

We all have to make judgements about people, sometimes for our own safety and well-being, but when does judgement slide into judgementalism? Have you ever felt you were being condemned by someone else unjustly? What did it feel like?