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

St George’s Church, Music Director

We are delighted to welcome Charlotte O’Neill as our Director of Music. Charlotte lives with her husband Richard and their family at our edge of Hawkhurst; she is a Durham University graduate and has led choirs in her college there and at churches in Houston Texas, Frittenden and Maidstone.

Charlotte has settled into leading choir practice, which is now on a Friday evening. Please do come along and meet her.