Category Archives: Letters from the 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

Rector’s Letter August 2016

Bring peace to divided communities

We seem to be living in a time of turmoil, upheaval and uncertainty. We have just been through the Referendum – the outcome of which seems to have taken most “experts” by surprise, and also most people that I have spoken to locally. There has been an immediate effect upon our Government, and we now have a new Prime Minister. There continues to be reports on the news of atrocious killings and terrorist acts. As I write this, we have heard the news today of the horrendous killing of many people in the French city of Nice by a man driving a lorry into a crowd of people out celebrating Bastille Day.

And yet our friends are still our friends; our family is still our family, and our neighbours are still our neighbours. And the phrase I used in last month’s letter still stands: “Love your neighbour as yourself” – or, putting it in a way that might sound less daunting, or more possible to achieve: treat everyone as you wish to be treated. And because of the terrorist actions we see on the news – like Nice – living life with this as our mantra has never been more important.

Theresa May, in her first speech, said “… not everybody knows this, but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party …” I will put my hand up and say that I did not know that; but I will also say that unionist and union are also important to me. Especially in these times. Putting aside the political association of the word, I believe that we would get on better with our neighbour if we concentrated on the things that unite us; the things we have in common. If we have any chance of defeating terrorism and extremism, we have to look to the things that unite us.

When I saw the images of the lorry being driven through Nice causing the death of so many people my heart went out to the people affected: those killed or injured; their families and friends; those who witnessed the event first hand. Common humanity says that act of violence and murder is wrong. Bishop Trevor has said, “It is hard to know how to respond, what could possibly make a difference.” One thing that I believe is that prayer does make a difference; and the Bishop urges us to pray – as follows – for all those affected, for France and for our world today:
“God of love, we offer our questions to you. We offer our pain and grief to you. We offer
our anger to you. Bring healing to the people of Nice. Grant world leaders your wisdom.
Bring peace to divided communities. And embrace us all in your love.”

Please pray for unity.

Revd David Commander
Rector
Benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst
T: 01580 240658 E: david@dc-uk.co.uk

Rector’s Letter July 2016

Love my “neighbour”!!!!

Last month’s letter, you may remember, was about “service”. Over the weekend of the 10-12 June the nation celebrated the life and service of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. In the village the Primary School put on an afternoon tea on the Green; the Players (+ others that they roped in!) performed in a Revue in the Village Hall; thank you to everyone involved in making those events happen. And then on the Sunday afternoon we held a special service in St George’s, with the church be-decked in bunting; thank you to those who came along and were part of that celebration service.

The theme of that service was: “Service”! The reading, one known to hold much significance to Her Majesty, was the story of the Good Samaritan: about the service of one person to another. Two interesting things came out of that story this time. Firstly, the help and care offered was to a complete stranger. Secondly, if someone is in need of help – help them … it could be you in need of help the next time!

A really difficult part of Christian teaching is the bit about, “Loving my neighbour as myself”; there may be times when you might sit there thinking, I don’t even like my neighbour (don’t worry Aurea, Robin and Jane: this doesn’t apply from us to you!) – now you tell me I have to love them! But this Good Samaritan story shows us that “my neighbour” is not just the person who lives next door; the challenge is even bigger than that! “Our neighbour” is our fellow human-beings; all people. Those in our community, those outside it; those whom we know, the one who is a stranger; those who are like us, those who are different.

And what about this “love” bit? “I can’t do that”, you’re thinking! How about changing that to simply: treat other people as you would like to be treated? Maybe that is easier to think about doing than thinking I’ve got to love everyone?! You know you don’t want to be spoken of badly, or lies told about you; you don’t want to be robbed, swindled or defrauded out of money; you don’t want your property damaged or stolen; you don’t want to be belittled, laughed at or humiliated … so don’t you do it to other people! Then it becomes a very straight-forward, simple, life-giving instruction.

As I said at the end of the celebration service, “How do we live life?” By living a life that serves and cares for other people; that respects other people the same as we wish to be respected. “Love your neighbour as yourself” sounds really hard; but – treat everyone as you wish to be treated … our community will be a better place for it. Go on, try it. Then come and tell me if it’s right or not!

Revd David Commander
Rector
Benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst
T: 01580 240658 E: david@dc-uk.co.uk

Rector’s Letter June 2016

Can you serve?

What do you think of when speaking of serving; of being served; of service?
Do you immediately think of sport, and beginning a tennis match; sending down that ace serve to win the crucial point? Or does your mind start to thinking about a waiter or waitress serving a meal at your table? (Remembering the privilege it is to have someone come to serve you; or the shear hard work that it is if you’re on the other side of this service?) Or if you are from a military background, then surely serving in the armed forces will come to mind, and the times you spent with colleagues in dangerous situations – serving one another. If you are in any form of Christian ministry, then the expression serving the Lord will resonate with you.
We also speak about serving a sentence in prison, or serving your time. In the legal profession you serve a writ. And when something has outlived its usefulness we say it has served its purpose.

In Jonathan Swift’s, Gulliver’s Travels, “Voyage to Brobdingnag” he speaks of someone serving his country: “…whoever could make two ears of corn or two blades of grass to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together”. (With apologies to our local councillors who serve us well in our village!)

And if it is music and hymns that come to mind, then you may have music from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” going through your mind and the words of Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice: “I vow to thee my country, all earthly things above, entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love”. (If you didn’t, you do now!)

Whatever it is that comes to mind with the word service, one has to admire the service that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II committed to and has achieved in her life. On the weekend of the 10th-12th June sees the official celebrations of Her Majesty’s 90th birthday and her service as our monarch – the longest serving monarch of our country. Whether you are a royalist or a republican at heart, you have to be impressed by the dedication that she has shown over so many years to her role. She seems to have lived up to Psalm 100, “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing.” (King James version) We have a service at St. George’s Church on Sunday 12th June, with a theme of “service”, to mark this milestone of Her Majesty. Please come along, as part of the celebrations, and join in this service; it starts at 5pm.

Revd. David Commander
Rector
Benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst
T: 01580 240658 E: david@dc-uk.co.uk

Rector’s Letter May 2016

Good – and bad – news travels fast.

Last month I shared the lovely news with you all of the birth of our first grandchild. (He continues to grow, is very well, and a real delight and blessing.) It struck me when thinking about this letter how we are all so quick to share really happy news; we want to tell other people when exciting things happen in our lives. We all do it, don’t we? When something good happens in our lives – we pick up the phone, send emails, get on Facebook, speak to people at work or in the village, and the good news spreads quickly. But when things are not going well in our lives…..it’s a very different matter. (Don’t worry, everything is fine in our family, we’re not hiding anything, it is the principle that I want to write about and share.)

For the last two months we have been trying to come to terms with the dreadful news of a mother being killed in her own home; and then trying to understand the shocking news that this was carried out by her husband. Everything was brought back to the forefront of our minds last week when news of the court appearance and sentencing was made known. Our love and prayers, our thoughts and concerns, remain for this young family as they look to rebuild their lives together.

Like good news, bad news also travels very fast – and so do rumours associated with the bad news. A crucial difference though is that when things start going wrong in our personal lives we do not want to speak about it. We want to keep those things to ourselves; keep them completely private – which is very understandable, that is what the vast majority of us do. We shut our front doors, draw our curtains, put on a good-face, and pretend that everything is alright in our lives; when inside – inside our homes, inside our relationships, and inside our minds – we are really hurting. If something positive can come out of this dreadful situation, then could it be that we learn to share how we feel about the bad things that are happening in our lives with someone? That we learn to be honest with ourselves, and we learn to share the bad with someone that we know will listen.

I have had it said to me so many times in my ministry as a priest, “I wish I could have done something to help prevent it happening”. But so many times we do not know about the it until the event has happened…..because we are all so good at hiding bad things in our lives from others. Please, if there is something that is burdening you – speak to someone, speak to me, to anyone, about it. Share things, and try to prevent things escalating out of control.

Revd. David Commander
Rector
Benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst
T: 01580 240658 E: david@dc-uk.co.uk

Rector’s Letter April 2016

New Life – A New Phase of Life

New life is an amazing thing. From conception, through development and growth in the mother, to the birth of a tiny human being: new life is an absolutely amazing thing. How does this incredible thing happen: from a cell dividing to a fully formed human being? What an astonishing thing the creation of new life is. I have been a Christian since my mid-teens, over forty years ago, but I would say it was when our first daughter was born, some thirty years ago (where does the time go?!), that I really started to question what life was really all about, and my faith really took off. And it changed my life forever. Now, Helen and I have some lovely news that we would like to share with you this month…we have now officially joined the grandparent club! We now have little Toby James in our family; born on the 1st March.

This new life has got me thinking again though; because not only is this a new life, Helen and I are now in a new, unexplored phase of our life: that of being a Grandma and Grandad! Where do I go to buy a pipe; and slippers; a rocking chair; and strong reading glasses?! (Amazon I suppose; like most other things I’m sure they’ll all be available there!) Will I reach a point when I suddenly need these things?! Do I have to slow down? Will I instantly be considered to be partially deaf, partially blind, and old fashioned? Do I have to start saying things like, “Back in my day…”, or, “We didn’t have things like that when you were growing up; but we did alright”, or, “Why are car-seats/buggies/high-chairs so complicated to use?” Is this new life, and new phase of life, going to change me/us into the stereotypical image of aging grandparents?! Advice from those of you with much more experience of the grandparent club would be greatly appreciated please!

How do we go about balancing our own independence and the things we want to do, with the independence of our own child and her new family and the things they want to do/need to do? How do we balance the independence and the interdependence of this new phase of family life? One piece that I have read recently (you’ll be able to tell it’s American!) said, “Balancing this independence/interdependence is a bit like how porcupines stay warm in winter: they come close enough together to get warmth from each other, but stay far enough away to avoid the quills”! It’s going to be interesting working out this balance!

Helen and I look forward to growing into this grandparenthood thing; and seeing how something so small can cause such big impact in our lives – again!

Revd. David Commander
Rector
Benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst
T: 01580 240658 E: david@dc-uk.co.uk

Rector’s Letter March 2016

The Easter Season

Last month I wrote a little piece about the service on Ash Wednesday – the start of Lent, and beginning 40-days of preparation before Easter Sunday. But, as we all know, the date of Easter Sunday moves each year. The earliest that that Easter falls is the 22nd March, and the latest is 25th April. I heard someone say the other day that we’re always either commenting that, “Easter’s early this year” or, “Easter’s late this year”; but when the date falls in the middle you never hear anyone say, “Easter’s got it exactly right this year”!

For those who want to know these things, the date of Easter Sunday is calculated as follows (in the Western Christian Church, using the Gregorian calendar!):
Easter falls on the Sunday following the (ecclesiastical) full moon that follows the Northern spring equinox. (Though there are complications and anomalies to this simplified calculation!)

In 1818 the full moon fell on Saturday March 21 (the equinox) and therefore the following day, March 22, was Easter Sunday – the last time it was at its earliest date; it will not fall as early again until 2285 – not that we will have to worry about that! The last time Easter Sunday fell on the latest possible date was 1943 – and the next time will be 2038. (If you’re really into this, there’s a website that gives the dates of every Easter Sunday from 1700 to 2299 – but that might be rushing your life away to spend too much time studying that!) I would certainly be happy if we do end up agreeing and adopting a fixed date for Easter.

Easter Sunday falls on the 27th March this year. (“Easter’s early this year, isn’t it?”!) To be able to fully participate in the joys and celebrations of Easter Day (the resurrection of Jesus Christ who died for you) then I would encourage you to join in the services marking the dark moment of Good Friday. To be ready for all that Good Friday means then I’d also encourage you to join in the services of Holy Week; and to prepare yourself for Holy Week through what remains of Lent.

Come and travel with other Christians from the cross of Ash Wednesday, to the empty cross – the cross of victory this Easter, and experience the full joy of Easter this year.

But as we do so, please remember to hold the Andrews family in your thoughts and prayers as they all try to come to terms with the tragic death of Caroline last month. The Christian hope of the Easter story and its meaning for all of us is especially true for them this year. Thank you for the way our community has come closer together to support the family and one another through this tragedy.

God bless you this Easter-time.

Revd. David Commander
Rector
Benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst
T: 01580 240658 E: david@dc-uk.co.uk

Rector’s Letter February 2016

Brief history of Lent and Ash Wednesday

This year seems to be passing quickly already. In a few days we’ll be into – I think I must have blinked because it doesn’t feel that long ago that we were celebrating Christmas together; but since then we’ve also had New Year, of course, and Epiphany – the manifestation – when the wisemen visited and saw the baby Jesus.

Originally Lent may have followed straight on from Epiphany, as Jesus’ visit to the wilderness followed on immediately from his baptism. It soon became firmly attached to Easter though – the principal time of baptism – and new candidates had to be prepared for this. They did so through self-examination, penitence, self-denial, study, and preparation for Easter – the traditional characteristics of Lent. The season of Lent has been around for a very long time, here is a short verse, originally written in Latin, from before the 12th century:
Now is the healing time decreed
for sins of heart and word and deed,
when we in humble fear record
the wrong that we have done the Lord.

As the candidates for baptism were instructed in the Christian faith the whole Christian community was invited to join them in the process of study and repentance, the extension of which over forty days would remind them of the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tested by Satan; hence the “Forty Days of Lent”.

The calculation of these Forty Days has varied considerably, but now – in the Western Church – is counted back from the end of Holy Week to get to the start of Lent; but not including the Sundays as these are kept as a day of celebration. It also gave folk a short break from the discipline of self-denial – from which we have the tradition of giving something up during Lent. Counting back forty days from Easter Eve, and taking out the six Sundays, you get to a Wednesday; known in the Church calendar as “Ash Wednesday”.

On the evening of Ash Wednesday, which this year falls on the 10th February, we have a service (8pm, at the Mission Church in Sandhurst) which involves the imposition of ashes – drawing the sign of the cross on the forehead in ash. Ashes are an ancient sign of penitence, and from the Middle Ages it became the custom to begin Lent by being marked, in ash, with the sign of the cross. This is simply to remind us that we are all mortal, we all do things that are wrong, and we all need to work at trying to live better lives. I produce the ashes from last year’s palm crosses. This letter is basically a long way of asking you to let me have your old palm crosses back by Sunday 7th February please.

I hope that the Forty Days of Lent do not pass you by as quickly as the first forty days of the year up to Ash Wednesday have!

Revd. David Commander
Rector
Benefice of Benenden and Sandhurst
T: 01580 240658 E: david@dc-uk.co.uk