Category Archives: Letters from the Rector

Rector’s Letter – December 2017

Another year draws to a close

With December, the year draws to a close; and another year goes by. A year with, I trust, many happy things to look back on; things that bring a smile to your face as they come to mind. Mixed, I have no doubt, with some hard things that you’ve had to deal with this year, and perhaps some events that are painful to think back on. I hope that the balance has been towards the happier things of life for you this year.

On this yearly cycle of life, the Church now moves into Advent and then on to Christmas. Advent is a time of preparation for us; preparing ourselves for the celebrations of Christmas, hopefully as we remember – amongst all the wrapping paper, presents, food, drink, and family time – the reason that many are having time off work … we are celebrating the birth of an incredibly special baby about 2,000 years ago; a baby who Christians believe, as a man (and as God) came to help us and save us. Advent is also, for the Church, a time of preparing ourselves, more deeply, for the return of Jesus again – whenever that may be. Perhaps it will be in thousands of years, or maybe hundreds of years; or perhaps it will be in your lifetime; or tomorrow. None of us know; but we should be prepared – that is what Advent is about.

The years also move on; this year we are celebrating five Christmases together. I cannot believe where that time has gone. There are plenty of things to share together in the run up to Christmas and over Christmas; I hope we’ll meet up at some of them. It all begins with our candle-lit Advent Carol service on Sunday 3 December; then an Advent evening together with Revd Rosemary at the Mission Church in Sandhurst on Monday 4 December. The Primary School Nativity on Wednesday 13 December; the Parish Carol Service, with the church illuminated by the candelabras, on the evening of Tuesday 19 December. We’ve then got a choice of four services on offer on Christmas Eve: 8am Communion, 10am Morning Worship, 3pm The Crib Service (come dressed as a nativity character – whatever your age!) and 11.30pm for the first Communion of Christmas. On Christmas Day you can then join us for Communion at 8am, or 10am for Family Worship – which then runs into another Communion if you’d like to stay. However, it doesn’t end there! If you’d prefer not to be on your own for the rest of Christmas Day, you’re welcome to come and have Christmas lunch at the Memorial Hall (but please sign up for this – for further details see page 9); or drop into the Hall for a drink when you’re out for a walk. Alternatively, you can catch me in The Bull, of course! We have a great community spirit in Benenden; come and join in with it. I wish you a blessed Christmas.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter – November

Our rural churchyard

In August, I put out a plea for people to help those who have maintained our churchyard for many, many years. I am delighted to say that the response was very positive, and for that I thank those who have come forward and have helped on several of the working parties.

Some may recall a comment in the October 2016 magazine about the introduction of plants and shrubs, personal mementos and other artificial items on some graves, and these being against the Diocesan Churchyard Regulations 2014. (These are set nationally, but with slight variations across different Diocese. A copy is available in church.) The problem, over the years, with the Regulations not being implemented, is that their boundaries become blurred, and you get into a situation where someone says, “Why can’t I have … whatever the wish is … on my loved one’s grave, like they have?” – pointing to an example of something similar, somewhere else in the churchyard. Before we know it, there’s a proliferation of items that not only do not comply with the Churchyard Regulations, but which to other people look completely out of place in a rural churchyard.

Here, of course, lies a pastoral minefield that I am about to tiptoe through: how to stop the increase of such personal mementoes that do not comply?

Concern has been expressed about items in the churchyard, especially in the context of what is required under the Regulations – these are effectively nationally applicable bylaws framed in such a way as to provide a balance between the sometimes conflicting needs of: (i) ensuring an acceptable appearance of a churchyard – as opposed to a cemetery; (ii) maintenance; and (iii) the wishes of relatives of the deceased.

Among items not permitted under the Regulations are artificial flowers, miniature fences and chippings, the latter two, particularly, causing hazards and considerable difficulties for the maintenance of the churchyard. The Regulations also say that rose bushes, shrubs and trees must not be planted on individual graves, because they have a habit of growing. (For example, in St Nicholas Sandhurst a conifer has been planted in a grave, while 25ft above the grave is an overhead power-line; something will have to be done about this, for obvious reasons!)

To bring our churchyard within the Regulations, all non-permitted items will be removed after a period of three months from their first being observed. They will be recorded and kept for 12 months, and if they are not claimed within this period, they will be suitably disposed of. (Notices will be posted in the churchyard to coincide with this article.) Existing small plants will not be disturbed.

If you can help by removing anything on your family grave that does not comply, we would be grateful, and it may reduce the upset some may feel. I trust that we can maintain the beauty of our rural churchyard for years to come for the benefit of everyone who visits.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter – October

Free, but priceless

Last month, in my letter, I wrote about the beauty of the nature that I had experienced when on holiday over the summer in Scotland, and also of the beauty of our churchyard and the wildlife there. I would encourage everyone to be observant and take it all in. We are surrounded by the beauty of creation; we are well blessed in the area where we live, and in the country we live in; we should not take it for granted.

This month, in the church, we mark the Harvest; a traditional village time of celebrating the harvest being gathered in; the crops brought into the barns; the fruit and hops safely gathered for another season. We have done so down through the centuries to give thanks for the crop from nature, and for the people who have worked through the year to produce the harvest. This is a traditional, rural event; one that we continue to uphold – even though most of us have never worked on a farm or out in the field. What we can all do at this time, even if we haven’t got our hands dirty with the earth, is celebrate all that we have; we can celebrate all the things that we have been blessed with in our lives. Just like the beauty of nature, we should not take any of the things we have been blessed with for granted but recognise them and be thankful.

Very early in November, we will hold a service to commemorate the faithful departed. This gives us all the opportunity to remember and celebrate the lives of those we have known, and loved, and have been blessed to share life with. The service at St George’s Benenden, takes place at 7.30pm on Thursday 2 November (All Souls’ Day); the service at St Nicholas Sandhurst is at 10am on Sunday 5 November. A list of all the names read out at last year’s services will be available in both parish churches in early October; can you please check these sometime in the month and let me know if you would still like the name read out, or if there are other names you would like adding this year. Please join us at either service as we remember those whom we love but see no more; those whom we miss in our lives. Whether they passed away recently or many years ago, we still feel the loss of a loved one. Come and remember them in one of these gentle, reflective services.

We have all been blessed with the gift of life; that gift includes those whom we love. Life is fragile; life is precious. The gift of life is given to us freely – but it is actually priceless. Do not take the gift of life for granted, but embrace it and respond to it with a generous and grateful heart.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter – September

Beauty of Creation

I trust that you managed to get a break from the normal routine over summer, and perhaps even managed a holiday away somewhere. We journeyed up to Scotland as we have done in the summer for the last forty years or so. The beauty of our country never ceases to amaze me. There are some bits that we whizz past quickly on the motorway having over 500 miles to cover. I’m sure along the way we miss some other beautiful scenery, but we leave one beautiful part of the country and arrive to relax in another beautiful part – around The Trossachs in Scotland.

Once again the scenery, and the wildlife, did not disappoint. Oh that we had our village ornithologist with us! We saw plenty of birds from robins to buzzards (fortunately I can tell the difference between them!), but we could have done with Charles to identity all the other many birds we saw. Being in Scotland we didn’t see any grey squirrels but were pleased to see several red squirrels on the feeder outside our cottage. One small red squirrel kept returning again and again, distinctive by the coloured rings on his tail – natural, like a ring-tailed Lemur rather than rings actually attached to the squirrel!

Having got used to the red squirrels, we then had the delight of seeing not one, not two, but three Pine Martens playing around the same feeders outside the cottage … and not just a glimpse, but for five or six minutes! We were very fortunate. What beautiful creatures.

But even they weren’t the highlight of the holiday on the wildlife front. We went on many walks, three of them either started at or finished up at a remote farm near Balquhidder. On each occasion we were there, we were blessed with seeing a white stag. Again, not just a glimpse of it, but simply standing and watching it for five minutes or more. A beautiful creature with a wonderful head of antlers – still looking velvety. How we managed to see all of this with our crazy dog with us I do not know! The stag certainly saw Barney but was completely unfazed by him.

The beauty of the wildlife we saw, and the beauty of the scenery, once again convinced me that creation cannot simply be the accidental coming together of certain elements in just the right temperature and pressure conditions with just the right amount of light – and hey presto … life! I still believe in the process of evolution, and that being part of creation; but it all just being one big accident? No, it can’t possibly be. And, if not an accident, then how – and more importantly
why – did it all happen? Enjoy mulling that one over the next time you see any form of life – it’s
all beautiful. (Well, maybe not the midges!)

And speaking of beauty: thank you to all the folk who responded to my call for help in our beautiful churchyard. It was greatly appreciated.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Rector’s Letter – August

Growing issues in the churchyard

You may not be aware, but I am being made aware, that the churchyard of our village church seems to be a bit of a Marmite choice: some people love it the way it is (a haven for flora and fauna), and others think it is totally unloved. In the space of a few days recently, I had one couple telling me how beautiful the churchyard is with all the wild flowers, and another family telling me how disgusting it is that it is being left and obviously uncared for.

Like so many jobs associated with Church, apart from the minister and the organist, it is run and maintained by many volunteers; this includes the churchyard, although we do engage someone to do some of the larger areas of strimming. (He recently had the delight of the birth of a second child and was delayed in being able to do as much as usual.)

St George’s churchyard is almost five acres in size. Since records began by royal decree in 1558, 7,928 burials have taken place – the vast majority without known locations. Our earliest known grave dates from 1652, and there are 1,170 known marked graves in the churchyard. It has taken a seven-year labour of love to record all of these on to a churchyard plan and also record the inscriptions where they could be read. The churchyard also has to comply with nationally set Churchyard Regulations. If these are not adhered to then maintenance becomes even more difficult (a copy is available in church).

We have a team of 16 or 18 volunteers who meet four or five times a year for a Saturday morning working party (many of them also do additional hours on their own). Most are, by their own admission, “well into our seventies, know our limitations and act accordingly”! I would like to thank them for all they do to maintain the churchyard on our behalf; it is hard work, and it is unending work – things just keep growing!

We would love it if more people would come forward to volunteer to look after the churchyard. The walkways and the areas around the church are kept cut short, as are the areas of the current burials and interments; other areas are allowed to grow naturally and the grass taken up in October. However, there are other areas where it would be good to keep the grass cut around other graves.

The more volunteers we have, the more areas can be kept shorter; and there are plenty of other jobs to do! If you are interested in helping maintain and improve our churchyard, then please contact me. Speaking of helping: there is becoming an issue of dog faeces being left in the churchyard; out of courtesy to everyone else, please clear up after your dog.

Revd David Commander, Rector

Please note the next opportunity to join a Churchyard Working Party is on Saturday 5 August meeting at St George’s. Any time you can be there between 9.30am and 12noon will be greatly appreciated

Rector’s Letter – July 2017

Life is to be lived

I do confess to feeling a little election fatigue of late! (Scottish Independence Referendum, September 2014; a general election in May 2015; Brexit in June 2016; another general election – with a surprising result! – in June 2017; and local elections in that period too.) You remember Brenda from Bristol: “You’re joking – not another one! Honestly I can’t stand this.” Moreover, there is, of course, every prospect of another election in less than five years; people will start to moan about all this! However, just be grateful you live in a democracy and can enjoy having a choice.

In the same period, we have also had some surprising results in elections in other countries, one of which makes me concerned for the world’s future and stability. We have also witnessed, on our televisions, huge numbers of refugees travelling across parts of Africa and the Middle East entering Europe and trying to cross the channel to the UK. We have witnessed atrocities of innocent people being killed by IS. In the last three months, we have seen three terrorist attacks taking place in our country: on Westminster Bridge and in the grounds of Parliament; at a concert enjoyed by many youngsters in Manchester; and on London Bridge and Borough Market. In these, so many innocent people have lost their lives and many others will have to deal with physical injuries and mental anguish and pain for probably the rest of their lives. In these attacks, we have witnessed the worst of human behaviour, but we have also witnessed humanity at its very best. We have seen a few individuals carrying out senseless, violent, brutal, murderous acts; but we have seen many, many more people showing love, compassion and care to complete strangers. And today, as I write this, we have seen again love and compassion in the community in West London as people have reacted to the devastating fire in a tower block. In all of these events, we have seen selfless acts by so many members of the emergency services and the public.

Humanity at is best is so beautiful; humanity at its worst can be utterly shocking. In one quote I have read today from London, a Paul Kipulu said, “There is nothing here but love; and I wanted to help.” Oh that we could all take that attitude to living our lives, and it not take some tragedy to bring this out in us. All human life is valuable: whatever our culture, background, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender. I want to encourage you to live life; to enjoy life; to enjoy your family. None of us knows what is around the corner in our lives. So please, please – live in love. Life is too short, too fragile, too vulnerable, too precious to worry and argue about insignificant things. Life is to be lived and enjoyed – in harmony with everyone else.

Revd David Commander, 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