My Final Tour of the Hambleden Valley

This past Sunday was my final day in the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches. I have loved the last almost 3 years there. It was a joy and privilege to serve the people and the churches of this beautiful place. I now take a 6 week break – starting with some time at Mucknell Abbey.

Final Hambleden Service

Romans 12:9-end
John 15:1-12

To all God’s beloved in the churches of the Hambleden Valley, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, I thank God for all of you because of your faith, your love and dedication to the churches, villages and Valley. I have abided with you these last (almost) 3 years and I love you. Sometimes you were very easy to love; sometimes it took a little more effort! I know that many of you would have liked me to abide longer. This was not an easy decision to make, but in the longer term this was the best decision for you and for me. Even if we cannot see that yet.

My interim period in the Hambleden Valley has been extremely valuable to my ministry. I take many lessons with me; I learned some hard ones and that is a good thing. I leave something of my heart with you.

Part of my role here was to remove some branches and prune the trees for a fruitful future. I wait in hope and anticipation to see what fruit is produced in the years to come. I pray that God will be gracious and let me have a look or an update every once in a while.

Pruning is never easy. It is often painful and needs to be done with careful attention. I tried. I know that I did not always get that right; I pruned with blunt secateurs and little too close to the bone. I can only apologise. If there is any consolation, I too was pruned in this role by God. His pruning was much more efficient and gentle. Please leave any future pruning in the hands of God. He is so much better at it than we ever can be.

We can be tempted to prune each other with our looks, our words and our deeds. Resist the temptation! Abide with each other, keep on keeping on. Bear with one another. We are all bearing with you! Love what is genuine.

My only caution to you is this: do not be tempted to look backwards or romanticise the past. The Church cannot and does not live in the ‘good old days’ if in fact they even were. The next few months before Andy is licensed will be busy and challenging. You have been here before; watching your thinking. Do not make space for negativity or crustiness. This is not a vacancy. Call it minding the gap. Hope is on the horizon – look ahead with optimism. Abide with each other.

Jesus’ call for the disciples to abide with each other in John 15 was part of the Last Supper discourse. There is an urgency in the tone of this writing. He was going to the cross. We are not! Wait patiently in this next short while. Love one another and hang in there. Keep the commandments. Love your neighbour.

These are your instructions.

Here are your love letters…

To the angels of the church at Fawley: Fawley is special to me as you were the first people I got to meet in person when I started in January 2021. Your tenacity to keep meeting every Friday at noon, lockdown restrictions or not, week in and week out, rain or shine, warm or cold is truly inspirational.

Your care for friends and neighbours has been, and continues to be, unstinting. Fawley is also a place of convivial hospitality all done to impeccable standards.

I cannot wait to see the building once it is reopened. Please invite me! You should be commended for the desire to put the church back in the centre of the village.

Bless you dear Fawleyites.

To the angels of the church at Fingest: You might be small but you are fierce! You like to do things your own way and take great pride in doing just that. The devotion to the church, village and pub is admirable.

Fingest is also the first and loudest to remind us that we are a Group in the Hambleden Valley. This is not to be forgotten or put to the side. Keep on banging the drum!

Fingest has a speciality for Evening Services. There is nowhere more peaceful than the 6 pm in St Bartholomew’s on a Sunday evening. When the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over, even on a cold winter’s evening, the radiators in Fingest are ablaze. I highly recommend attending.

Bless you dear Fingestites.

To the angels of the church at Frieth: You might be the daughter of the bigger church down here in the valley – thanks to those do-gooders of bygone days who thought the fine people of Frieth needed to go to church more regularly – but you are your own woman!

Your welcome to the students and staff at the school is noted. They love coming to visit even if, in the words of a reception student, it smells old. Nothing is ever too much trouble or fuss. The choir turns up on time (you smell just fine), sing beautifully and manage to do many other tasks in your choir robes; flitting around the church like little blue angels.

The spirit of Frieth is gentle and welcoming. My prayer is that more people will come to experience that.

Bless you dear Friethians.

To the angels of the church at Hambleden: In the heart of the valley, in the heart of the action. Things just happen in the church as though by magic. You are a graceful swan gliding down the humble Hamble Brook. Yet underneath is some mad paddling. People who visit are constantly amazed at the beauty of this building. The more astute know that it is the beauty of the people who care for this place that shines through. Your dogged dedication is what keeps the roof literally on this place.

The care and attention for wedding couples and baptism families, the sensitivity for bereaved families is renowned. Nothing is too big or small, no detail overlooked. Thank you to the choirs, bell ringers and flower ladies for making these events even more special.

To the grand-dame of the organ loft – thank you for sharing your immense gifts with us and so many for so long. We are now on to the 3rd generation of some families that you have played for.

Bless you Christine.

Bless you dear Hambledonians.

To the angels of the church at Medmenham: Oh Medmenham. You have certainly kept it interesting! You are on the cusp of a brighter future as a church; I really believe this. The pieces to this puzzle are almost certainly there; just needs some time to come together. The dedicated core keeps things moving; even when very few show up. Your gracious attitude means that it is always worth it. The village is slowly waking up to the gem of the church in their midst. We are to preach the gospel in season and out of season. Keep on going.

Brothers and sisters, please keep helping Medmenham. Just a little support will go a long way and help to encourage the villagers.

Bless you dear Medmenhamittes.

To the angels of the church at Turville: Dibley. It was a pleasure to be your Priest-in-Charge! Not Vicar. You wear the mantle of that with grace and nonchalance despite the attention it brings you. It does not go to your head. I will not let it go to mine either.

If you are at a loose end on a Wednesday morning, please do stop in at the 10:15 Communion service. It is beautiful! There is sometimes Bazil the cat, often a sweet toddler, highly esteemed elders from across the Valley bearing the local news and a very warm welcome. We break bread and then have biscuits. This is the ideal midweek oasis.

There are plans afoot to spruce the place up. Prayers for this journey. There are people rooting for you and desire to see this come to pass.

Bless you dear Turvillians.

To the angel of the church that is Jenny Neagle. You might not know Jenny. You should. She is a big part of the brains of the organisation. She helps Sue & I and the Church Wardens immensely. Always willing to learn, correct our mistakes, make contact with people in a compassionate and professional way.

Bless you Jenny.

To the angel of the church that is Sue Morton. I have so enjoyed being part of The Sues with you. You are a gift to the church and the Hambleden Valley. From you I have learned the value of giving things time and space. You are a fount of much knowledge that you share with consideration and grace. Thank you for your support and encouragement – especially when neither of us were sure. Your faith is an example to us all.

Bless you Sue.

And that, my friends, is my farewell tour of the Hambleden Valley. Abide with each other. Go gently, go patiently. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Go in the love and peace of Christ.

Trinity 12: Remember Who You Are!

Frieth 9:00 P&P
Trinity 12

Isaiah 51:1-6
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Growing up, I would say that I was a pretty good kid: a reasonable student, polite, well behaved, didn’t get into much trouble, etc. This carried on largely into my teenage years with the odd scrape, of course. Becoming a teenager means doing things independently of one’s parents and exploring nightlife. I grew up in a small town, so it did not take long to explore! Once curfew times had been negotiated and I got ready to go out, my Dad would almost inevitably say ‘Susan, remember who you are.’

Man! Sometimes it really bothered me! Especially if I had not fully disclosed where I would be going or what I would be doing that evening. This was my Dad’s way of telling me to behave, to remember how I had been raised and what was acceptable behaviour.

There were times when that sentence would pass through my mind; and I believe steered my behaviour. As I grew up and matured, I have come to realise that ‘remembering who I am’ is a very valuable thing to know.
In the Gospel reading this morning we are asked to consider who Jesus is. This is a pivotal moment in Peter’s life and in the lives of the disciples.
Why is Jesus asking this question?

Over the last few weeks in the lectionary we have been talking about weeds, wheat, pearls, treasures, mustard seeds, bread and fish. These are all stories about Jesus taking very little of something and making it very, very big. The miracles displayed in these stories show us God’s power displayed through Jesus in the provision and generosity given to those who choose to follow. These stories are pointing to the person of Jesus and who he is.

One of the recurring themes throughout these readings is Jesus having to continually prove himself to the disciples and the crowds. They are still doubting as they do not yet understand who He is and what he came to do in the building of the kingdom of God.
Up to this point Jesus has been seeking to prove his claim of messiahship through words and deeds. Now it is time to see if the lesson has been learned. Jesus starts with a ‘public opinion’ survey: ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

It seems like a bit of a random question. Might have seemed that way to the disciples. No doubt that Jesus already knew the answers but wanted to hear it from them. Jesus is given a variety of public opinion answers and this opinion is divided. Some say he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
These answers are interesting; people did not think of Jesus, meek and mild; not the cosy friend of little children. He is categorised as one of the wild prophets of the Old Testament. One who stood up spoke the word of God fearlessly and against the rulers of the day.

Then Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter: “Who do you say I am?” Suddenly there is no public opinion to hide behind. They must make an intelligent, personal choice based on the witnessed miracles and heard messages.
Take a moment now and consider that question for yourself. Jesus is asking you ‘Who do you say I am?’

This is an answer with not only eternal consequences but with consequences for the everyday trials and triumphs of walking around on this planet.
Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. An answer which gets him some serious praise and blessing. The importance of Peter’s answer is that he acknowledged that Jesus was not just God’s mouthpiece against injustice and corruption, but that Jesus was God’s Messiah, God’s king.

Who is Jesus to you? A good moral teacher? Jesus meek and mild, the baby in the manger that seems to stay there? Jesus on the cross who doesn’t seem to get down. Jesus the Prince of Peace, wonderful counsellor, Mighty Saviour, Name Above all Names.

Jesus had a word for Peter after his announcement. Tom Wright said: ‘if Peter was prepared to say that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus was prepared to say that, with this allegiance, Peter would himself be the foundation for his new building. Just as God gave Abram the name Abraham, indicating that he would be the father of many nations, so now Jesus gives Simon the new name Peter, the Rock.’

Peter went on to do just that. This was not without trials and tribulation for Peter. As we know he denied Christ before the crucifixion and had to live with that guilt and shame. Never forget that Jesus restored Peter on the beach.
This is really helpful for as and when we forget who Jesus is. We, like Peter, can be restored to the body of Christ. We need to take ourselves to Jesus, ask for forgiveness and start again.

It is through God’s grace that we have been restored and redeemed and it is also through grace that we have been given the gifts of God. Anyone need to hear this today?

In the Romans reading we are reminded that we are one body with many members and being members of one another.
We have been given gifts: ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and compassion. This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many, many more gifts of the Spirit. As I begin to reflect on my time in the Hambleden Valley, I am astonished by the diversity of gifts and talents across the parish. I am so grateful for the generous sharing of these gifts.
These are the gifts that we need, our families, friends and the wider world need us to use. The body of Christ is desperately needed! This is why we need to know who Jesus is: we are part of his body. Therefore best to know something of the person in whom we dwell and dwells within us.
By knowing who Jesus is we can have a clearer picture of who we are. We can remember who we are and who we were made to be when we know who Jesus is. The beloved children of God.