Category Archives: Letters from the Rector

Rector’s Letter – June 2017

Embrace opportunity

The Church may not change quickly but, down through the centuries, it has always embraced new technology, new ways of doing things – it just does so without rushing as so much of other society does. Examples of those changes made by previous generations in your parish church include: moving away from candles to electric light; larger windows and different stained glass images; also heating – who was the person who thought it might be a good idea to put some form of heating in the church? Or what about seating for all? Originally, there would have been very little seating in church. The stoup bowl, for crossing with holy water when entering the church, is over by the south door indicating this was probably the main entrance at one time. Or how about the building of a bell tower? I suspect the vast majority would not want to return to how everything was when our church was originally built.

We naturally continue to evolve – for all the church family: the young and the not so young. Recently, eight rear pews have been put into storage, under an Archdeacon’s Licence, to make the space at the back of church more flexible in its use. This was enjoyed by over a 100 people for a social after the Archdeacons’ Visitation service, and is enjoyed every week by families and children. I would encourage you to come and see; to come and use the space; and to embrace the opportunities that it can bring as we evolve.

Revd David Commander,
Rector

Rector’s Letter – May 2017

Can I make a difference?

I trust that everyone had a lovely Easter: enjoying all the services that were on offer; enjoying the break from school, work or your usual routine; perhaps you were fortunate enough to get away on holiday; or just enjoyed the lovely weather.

The Saturday of Easter, as I write this, feels quite a strange time. We’ve journeyed through Lent, Holy Week, the celebration of Maundy Thursday, and the darkness of Good Friday; and now we wait – waiting before the great celebrations of Easter day. Today there is the expectation of Easter Sunday, looking ahead to a wonderful, joyful time; but it is a day, for Christians, tempered with how we feel about Jesus being crucified. Easter Eve is not a happy day – and that is for us, who know there is good news to come. For the first followers, they did not know the wonderful next chapter of the story.

Then I put on the news – and it doesn’t relieve the mood of the day. I am finding the escalation of situations reported in the news quite disturbing; particularly given what we are told of the personalities involved in leadership on the world stage right now. The news involving the United States and Afghanistan, and Syria, and Russia, and North Korea is very concerning; what is going to happen tomorrow and next week, next month? Why do human beings always seem to have to be so aggressive, so dominating of others, so controlling? Why do human beings find it so hard to live with others who are different?

Right now, I feel like a helpless spectator on the sideline; being affected by what I’m watching, but unable to do anything to influence the outcome. Asking myself, “What can I do?” With situations like we have between the US and North Korea right now, the worrying answer is: absolutely nothing.

But … we can do something to make a difference in our little part of the world. We can do something to affect how life feels where we live and work; we can affect life in our community. We can start respecting other people. We can change the way we are with everyone that we meet or speak to. We can stop speaking about them behind their back. We can stop putting other people down. We can start respecting people who hold different views to our own. We can start caring for others, even when we disagree with them.

Human beings have a habit of escalating situations. We may not be able to affect the world stage, but each and every one of us can affect the community we live in. It starts with me; it starts with you. Can I make a difference? Yes, I can.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter – April 2017

Celebrate this Easter – Christ is risen

Wow, isn’t this a beautiful time of year, but also such a busy time of year? So much to do outdoors as the garden comes back into colour and into life. No doubt there will be others planning on work inside the home too – as long lists of jobs are drawn up. In the last couple of letters I’ve encouraged folk to try and step back from all the ‘busyness’ that we inflict upon ourselves, and use this time of Lent to more quietly reflect on life – and on God.

In some ways though I am also saying, “Don’t do as I do; do as I would like to do” – for this is probably a priest’s busiest time of year: the run up to Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. So as I encourage you to reflect and take some time out of the busyness, priests everywhere are ramping up preparing many services. And what a privilege it is to do this, for this is the most important time in the church year; reflecting through Lent, then ready for the joy of Easter.

Why not come and join us this year during Holy Week or on Easter Sunday? There is certainly a lot to choose from. We begin with the celebration of Palm Sunday (9 April): there is a breakfast served in the Memorial Hall between the 8am and 10am services; and a procession from the Memorial Hall to St George’s ready for the start of the 10am service. Then through Holy Week, there is Morning Prayer at 8am, and a Reflective service at 5pm in the Mission Church in Sandhurst or 7.30pm in St George’s on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Maundy Thursday there’s a service at the Cathedral at 11am, and a Communion service at St George’s, for the benefice, at 7.30pm. Good Friday (14 April) we have “An Hour at the Cross” service at 10am; on Holy Saturday, Easter Eve, there is another Reflective service at St George’s.

Then we have the joy and celebration of Easter Day! And it starts early in the benefice: come along to an outdoor service at St Nicholas Church, Sandhurst for a sunrise service starting at 5.40am! It is beautiful seeing the sun rise across the marshes as we begin celebrating Easter together. Then warm up with tea/coffee and a bacon butty at the Mission Church! We then move on to an 8am Communion, a 10am Eucharist, and finish off the celebrations with Messy Church at 4pm; like I said: choice, lots of choice!

Please do not be so busy this Easter time to miss out on the joy and celebration, and the beauty of this time of year. God, who loves you so much he sent his Son to die for you, raises his Son to life. Let’s celebrate that together. Happy Easter.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter – March 2017

Easter is around the corner!

And so the year rolls on; the first two months are behind us, and now we move into the season of Lent once more (and the colour purple – which will mean something to some of the children in Primary School who’ve just visited St George’s and done colours and seasons!) Last month I wrote about my need to sometimes remove myself from all the day-to-day stuff of parish ministry, and “go up the mountain and pray” – to stay in touch with God. Lent is a very good time for us all to do this, metaphorically speaking; giving ourselves time to sit, think, reflect and look forward … looking forward to the joy of Easter Sunday. However, Easter Sunday can only be truly celebrated in depth and fullness if we are prepared for it by reflecting upon the darker parts of our lives and what Jesus went through for us and because of us. (Sorry if this is sounding too overtly Christian for some – but that’s what priests do!)

Wednesday 1st March is the start of Lent; we begin the season with an ‘ashing’ service at St George’s at 8pm – using last year’s Palm Crosses, burning them to create ashes, which are used in this reflective service. For our Lent Course, over a period of five weeks, we are exploring ‘Receiving Christ’; what it is to receive Christ in our lives: firstly as Children of God; then in the Stranger; in Holy Communion; through Prayer, and finally, in Ourselves. The course will be held on a Tuesday and a Wednesday evening; starting Tuesday 7 March at 7 Fuggles Court, Benenden at 8pm (telephone 241944), then Wednesday 8 March at The Mission Church, Back Road, Sandhurst at 7.30pm. Please come on the evening and to the place that suits you best. I would encourage you to spend just a few hours of your life exploring how we can receive Christ; how it makes a difference; then be ready to celebrate – really to live – Easter this year.

Your parish church is not a museum to the past; it is a living space, filled with people who get things wrong in life, but want to live life more fully. Come and join us. We have recently put up a display at the back of church which shows some of the changes that are taking place; come and see it. Also, put this date in your diaries, particularly if you on the church Electoral Roll: the Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) is on Tuesday 4 April at 7.30pm in the Memorial Hall. If you are interested in what is going on in your church, this is the annual meeting to find out, to join in, to ask questions, to bring new ideas … to hear all that your church has done, and is doing, and to be an active part of it. Come and join us; start this Lent.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter February 2017

Variety’s the very spice of life …

Or so the saying goes, “….that gives it all its flavour”. The lot of a parish priest is nothing if not varied, and having lived it here now for over three years, I can report that it is indeed full of many flavours: from joyous to distressing; from wonderful to frustrating; from challenging to routine. What is it that gives the life of a parish priest so much flavour? You all do!

From Messy Church to Sung Eucharists. From Primary School assemblies to All Souls Day services. From ice clearing and gritting outside of church to preparing couples for marriage. From writing something every month for the village magazine to baptisms and weddings and funerals – both meeting with families to discuss them and conducting the services.

From lunches and socials to hospital and home visits. From working in the café in Benenden’s every Wednesday and meeting people there, to attending Safeguarding training to be aware of potential abuse of vulnerable people. From toddler groups, eating cake, playing with toddlers and drinking coffee, to Choral Evensong.

From Parish, Benefice, Deanery and Diocesan meetings to new Praise services. Not forgetting the weekly services and sermons; or the annual dressing up as a shepherd, or wise man, or innkeeper! From putting too much regular stuff in the diary and dates three years hence, to having to deal immediately with the unexpected. From Christmas Day lunches to Trustee meetings that I didn’t know I’d be a trustee of when I signed up.

The life of a parish priest is truly full of variety and flavour. All of it is about relationships with people. All of it is such a privilege.

One of the big challenges in all of this variety, is staying in touch with God through all the things that I want to do and all the things that are expected of a parish priest. All the priests in Canterbury Diocese were reminded of this recently by our Bishop: that if we lose that connection, we are of no use as a priest to anyone.

His timely reminder was that the words of the Ordinal (the service book used for ordination services) ask of a priest: “That you are fully determined, by the grace of God, to devote yourself wholly to his service, so that as you daily follow the rule and teaching of our Lord and grow into his likeness, God may sanctify the lives of all with whom you have to do.” Serious stuff.

If there are occasions when you do not see me around the village or at different events, please be aware that there are times when I need to “go up the mountain and pray” – to stay in touch with God, so that I can continue to serve the parish as priest in all its rich variety.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter January 2017

Happy New Year!

So, you’ve got to the end of another year. Christmas is done. And my guess is you’re feeling pretty tired from everything that has happened this last year and from all the excesses of Christmas. (Why do we do that to ourselves?) And for those of you who work, you find yourself returning more tired than when you finished before Christmas. And now we’re expected to make New Year’s Resolutions!

Did you make a resolution last year and, if so, do you remember what it was? Was it something like: to lose weight; or to get fitter; to quit smoking; or to drink less? How long did you manage to keep it: for a month, a week, or less? Whilst thinking about something to write on this month, I came across this wonderful daily resolution from Bishop John Vincent, published in 1909. And it struck me that if we made this a resolution for a day, we might stand a chance of keeping it – what do you think?

“I will this day try to live a simple, sincere and serene life, repelling promptly every thought of discontent, anxiety, discouragement, impurity and self-seeking, cultivating cheerfulness, magnanimity, charity and the habit of holy silence, exercising economy in expenditure, carefulness in conversation, diligence in appointed service, fidelity to every trust and a child-like trust in God.”

Could we try and live life with this in mind for just one day? Just one day – surely I can manage that, can’t I? And then tomorrow when I wake up I’ll make another resolution; it will be the same words, but it will be my new resolution that I just need to keep for today. And then I’ll do it again the next day; I think life might be better. If you like the idea and the words, enter “bishop john h vincent calendar” into your search engine, print off the resolution, and stick it by your bathroom mirror, and read it every morning!

For those of you who don’t know God and therefore don’t like the last line, then as a mature, enquiring adult, I would challenge you to make this the year when you will promise to find out for yourself if God is real for you or not? Don’t dismiss it as religion, therefore it’s rubbish.
Don’t write off Church as a waste of energy/time/money and in doing so dismiss God. This is about your faith; that deserves some thought and exploration as a mature adult, not scorning.

For those of you who profess to having a relationship with God, then this year I would challenge you to get to know God better. Spend more time in reading, in prayer, and in worship together. Make 2017 the year that you get to the end of and think, “My life is better because I know God better”.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter December 2016

Happy Christmas

Happy Christmas! … Enjoy the greatest gift that anyone could give or receive: the gift of new life, in the form of God’s Son Jesus – the little baby whose birth we celebrate on the 25th – Christ’s-mas. Why did God do that? Very simple: because he loves us. But he also said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Not just, “love one another” – that would be hard enough; but “as I have loved you.” This is not God’s “do this if you feel like it/when you feel like it”. This is God’s commandment – “Love one another”. If you believe in God, there is no easy answer to this; there is no ducking this commandment.

There are two things that I know for certain about this: the first is that this is really, really tough to do; but the second is that the world would be a much better place if everyone lived life loving one another.

How we get from where humanity is at the moment, to where God wants us to be and how he wants us to live, is the tricky thing that we’ve not worked out yet. I know in my heart that this is the scenario that I want to get to; I honestly know that life will be better. But I also know and see so many issues in life: how am I meant to love someone whose abused someone else; or someone who may have murdered – particularly if they’ve murdered a loved-one of mine; or someone from ISIS intent on brutal, irrational killing of anyone different to them; or the killers of the RC priest, Fr. Jacques? I honestly, even as a priest, do not know how to start to do that.

What I do know though is that this is what God has commanded; and if we can do that that life will be better. But I cannot wait until others stop killing, or destroying other people’s lives, before I try to start loving them. It is up to me to make the first move. I have to try and find a way in my heart to reach out and offer that love. If I don’t as a Christian, why should others? If we are not prepared to take the first step as Christians, then the world will never get to that point of everyone loving each other.

God has promised that his love will ultimately be shared by all people. So I know it will happen; I trust God in that long term vision. But I cannot wait for it simply to happen. I have to be part of making it happen. Perhaps remembering the birth of the baby Jesus – the Son of God for all people – will be a starting point this Christmas for sharing that love.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter November 2016

Remembering

November certainly seems to be a time for remembering. The Church remembers All Saints’ Day on 1 November – though services usually take place on the nearest Sunday, so 30 October this year. The Church recognises its foundation stones, its saints (as opposed to the “Saints”) – those whose Christian lives have excited others to holiness and to faith. It has been celebrated on the 1 November since the 8th Century when a pope dedicated a chapel to All Saints in St Peter’s, Rome, on that day. Perhaps we would all do well to remember those who have helped us in our life; remember them, and say a quiet, “thank you”.

On the 2 November the Church remembers All Souls’ Day – the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. This is a day when we remember, at a gentle service, loved ones whom we see no more. But it goes deeper than that: it is a time of remembering and of unity. “The believer’s pilgrimage of faith is lived out with the mutual support of all the people of God. In Christ all the faithful, both living and departed, are bound together in a communion of prayer.” The universal church, the assembled people of God, works best when it recognises its unity in God’s redeeming love … with all who have said, who say now, and who will say in the fullness of time, “Jesus is Lord”. (From “Exciting Holiness”) It’s not about denominations; it’s about a common belief in those three simple words – Jesus is Lord. In a couple of recent sermons, I’ve urged people to hold on to something very simple, “Remember Jesus Christ”; it is a very simple message to remember and live each day by.

And each year at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, (the day marking the end of the First World War) the country observes a Two Minute Silence. A time to remember those who have paid the price for our freedom in the two World Wars; but also to remember the more than 12,000 British servicemen and women killed or injured since 1945. (From the RBL) Remembering those who have paid the greatest price, their life, so that we might have the freedom we enjoy is something that each generation must continue to do. The village Act of Remembrance takes place at St George’s Church on Sunday 13 November; please remember to join in this Act of Remembrance at 10.45am.

And whilst I write of “remembering”: I also remember that it is now three years since I wrote my first letter for the village magazine! (36 letters; this is number 37 I guess.) Three years since I have been licenced to the benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst. But I can’t remember where the time has gone though!

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter October 2016

There is beauty in our churchyards

Something a little bit lighter than my letter last month concerning the murder of the gentle Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Hamal in his church in St. Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy; though that community still continues to need to be held in prayer.

After this beautiful period of late summer weather, I wanted to write simply to say “thank you” to everyone who works so hard to keep the churchyards at St George’s, Benenden and St Nicholas, Sandhurst maintained. Not forgetting the grass around the Mission Church too! The churchyards of the parish churches are places that are loved and cared for all year round, and are such wonderful habitats for so much wildlife. The way they are both tended encourages many birds and animals, a variety of wild flowers, orchids, plants, lichen and mosses. I’m not going to name the people involved – firstly, because I don’t wish to cause embarrassment, and secondly, because I’d risk offending by missing someone – but thank you, on behalf of all of us, for your dedicated work in maintaining our beautiful churchyards.

There is a deliberate policy of both PCC’s (Parochial Church Council) to let some areas of the parish churchyards grass grow at certain times of the year before being mowed. This encourages the fauna and flora. Other areas, particularly around the current graves are mowed or strimmed and the grass kept shorter. I occasionally hear comments, in both parishes, regarding the more natural areas of the churchyard – those areas with the longer grass – that the churchyard is not cared for; some even commenting that it is disgusting how the place is not looked after! This is certainly not the case, in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth; and is actually hurtful to the volunteers who put in so much of their time, doing so much, to allow the rest of us good access to areas of the churchyard currently used for burials and interments.

On the other hand, I also often meet folk walking through the churchyard, with or without a dog, and get many comments about how beautiful the place is. I trust that you continue to enjoy the walks and the beautiful views from both churchyards. They are places where I hope that everyone can feel at peace, and at one with nature and our surroundings.

Please help those who work so hard for us in maintaining the churchyards, by being considerate of the nature and feel of your rural parish churchyard. When mementos, plants, trees and artificial items are introduced (against the national Churchyard Regulations) into rural churchyards they detract from the natural beauty of the place and actually make the churchyards harder to maintain. I hope that we can all continue to enjoy the beauty of our churchyards for many years to come. And if you’d like to help … more volunteers will always be made welcome!

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter September 2016

Why?

Last Tuesday (as I write this) a gentle, elderly Catholic priest, Fr. Jacques Hamal was murdered as he completed the daily Mass in his local church in St. Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy; and today he has been buried. He was killed by two young men with no idea of the value of human life; claiming to do this in the name of God. As they killed him, they took a video-recording of this brutal, horrific, senseless act.

Pope Francis spoke of, “the pain and horror of this absurd violence”. The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols said, “To commit murder at a place where people gather in peace to worship adds another layer of depravity to the violence witnessed.” At Morning Prayer, the next day, I found for the first time ever that I could not pray for the people who committed this murder; I could not ask for forgiveness for them. Another act of hate leaves us struggling to come to terms with man’s inhumanity to man.

As a priest I identify with Fr. Jacques. I also feel hurt that the beautiful, sacred, loving, freeing, act of the Eucharist has been desecrated. Other emotions include fear (“When will it happen here?”); despair (“How can things have gone so wrong in our world?”) and outrage (“How can we let this go on?”). I also find myself angrily shouting, “Why, God? How can man do this to a fellow human-being?” I want to retaliate; and I still can’t yet find it in myself to forgive those young men or pray for them. That scares me even more; I know, as a priest, I need to pray about this.

To act out of a feeling of revenge will simply make matters worse and add to the spiral of hate. The perpetrators are aiming deliberately to get Western society to react with fear, despair or outrage so that we too are drawn into their hate; setting us against one another. We have to find it in our hearts to build relationships with those who are different to us. I am painfully aware that this is not easy.

Fr. Jacques seems to have lived his life as a priest by caring for everyone. In the parish magazine in St. Etienne-du-Rouvray, that he wrote last month, he urged parishioners to “be considerate to others … whoever they are.” One of his colleagues joked with him, “Jacques, you’re getting on a bit; it’s time to take your pension.” To which he replied, “Have you ever seen a retired pastor? I will work until my last breath.” Which is exactly what he did do for God. I pray that I might work, until my last breath, to learn to love and live with everyone as Christ wants us all to. May we all do our small part to start making that happen here.

Revd David Commander, Rector