Category Archives: Letters from the 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

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