Letter from Barry – March 2019

A Perfect Fit

I don’t think I really believe this story, but if I’m ever going to pass it on, it has to be this month. There’s this lad, about ten or eleven years old. He’s been saving up his pocket money to buy his Mum a special present for Mother’s Day. By keeping his ears open at home he’s picked up that Mum is thinking of getting herself a new dressing gown. So, come Saturday, off he goes into town on the bus by himself. He manages to find the right department in the right kind of shop. A bit sheepish, he explains that he wants to buy a dressing gown for his Mum. ‘What size?’, asks the assistant. Now that’s a question he hadn’t been expecting. Colour he could cope with. Cream. But he hadn’t twigged that dressing gowns come in sizes, like shoes. He shrugs his shoulders. ‘Well’, says the assistant, ‘is your Mum thin or not so thin, short or tall?’ He thinks for a moment and then says, ‘She’s just perfect.’ (I told you I don’t really believe it.) Anyway, the not so thin assistant takes a size ten off the rack and hands it over. On Mothering Sunday, Mum feigns delight. On Monday she nips into town and exchanges the ten for a sixteen.

So what makes a perfect Mum? There is, of course, no such thing. I don’t suppose any of us would have too much trouble drawing up a list of our mother’s imperfections. As an adult it can be helpful, sometimes even necessary, to look back on your upbringing and say to yourself, ‘I think my Mum got this and that wrong.’ That might help us not to make the same mistakes. But we shall, of course, make plenty of our own.

Mother’s Day cards which talk about the ‘perfect Mum’ are better at expressing how you might feel than at describing how your mother actually is, or was. Mothers have so many different roles to fulfil. They can’t possibly do it all without putting a foot wrong: home maker, peace broker, often bread winner too, needing to be a tower of strength one moment and tender hearted the next. Let’s just acknowledge on March 31st that motherhood is a mammoth task for a woman of any size.

Barry Overend

Letter from Lizzie – February 2019

Dear Friends

February is almost upon us, and so I have been briefing my postman on where and how to store the vast amount of post I shall be getting on the 14th – Valentine’s Day – without causing a fire hazard down at the depot. A dangerous amount of love! How exciting!

Obviously, I’m joking – there’s only one card I am expecting this year and only one I want. But I wonder, what do we think about love? What might a dangerous amount of love look like?

Perhaps for some of us, there will be a pink and red piece of folded paper waiting for us at the breakfast table or posted through our letterbox on Valentine’s Day as a token of someone’s love for us. It might even be that this is the only time of year we tell our partner we love them, so that card has got to stand for quite a lot!

For some of us, we receive love from our families and our friends, through gestures, through conversations, through gifts, through hugs and cuddles – the love we receive and the love we give warms and sustains us.

Romantic love and love for friends and family are strong, beautiful, wonderful things, but rarely do they become “dangerous”.

Talking to the young people at REV + the other night, we asked the question –“Does God love everyone?” I must admit, I had expected the answers to go along the lines of, “no, not the people who are really evil” and then a list of potential “evil” people ranging from certain foreign heads of state to Hitler, via various types of unattractive criminal. The answers I got were entirely different – and very clear! (Never, ever underestimate 12 year olds!).

This is what they said: –

Yes. God has to love everyone. It’s what God is.

Yes, because there has to be someone or something that loves everyone, because everyone needs love and humans can’t always love other humans.

Yes, that’s what God exists for.

Yes, love changes things.

Yes, even when God doesn’t like what they do very much – God loves us like
your mum or dad would.

Now, that kind of radical love is “dangerous” and exciting. It can’t be contained in a flimsy card with a slightly twee message. It can’t be lost in arguments or dwindle with separation. It comes with no caveats, no conditions to fulfil, but it is powerful, countercultural and can turn things upside down. We cannot make God love us any more. We cannot make God love us any less. Whoever we are and whatever we have done, God comes down to show us Love in Jesus – urging us to love one another, showing us how it’s done, bringing us so close to God’s love that it is as though our hearts can beat along with God’s. Love, in a dangerous, exciting and radical way, that ends with even death being unable to prevent the life love brings to flourish.

Dangerous amounts of love? I’ll have some of that!

Love, Lizzie

The Vicar’s Letter – December 2108

Dear friends,

A number of years ago I was struck by a song by the Christian artist Faith Hill, entitled “A baby changes everything”

Teenage girl, much too young
Unprepared for what’s to come
A baby changes everything

Not a ring on her hand
All her dreams and all her plans
A baby changes everything

The man she loves she’s never touched
How will she keep his trust?
A baby changes everything

She has to leave, go far away
Heaven knows she can’t stay
A baby changes everything

She can feel He’s coming soon
There’s no place, there’s no room
A baby changes everything

gather ’round
(Up above the star shines down) star shines down
(A baby changes everything)

Choir of angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
A baby changes everything

Everything, everything, everything

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah

My whole life has turned around
I was lost but now I’m found
A baby changes everything, yeah
A baby changes everything

Most of us can empathise with the way in which a baby changes everything in our own lives, even if we try and find ways of minimising their disruptive influence. Our lives have to change and our hearts enlarge as we focus our love and care on a new-born babe. It is the start of an amazing journey which sees a totally reliant babe grow up into all that is invested in them. We place so many of our hopes and dreams as well as our aspirations and ambitions on our children. Not least we hope that our children will live in safety and be protected from some of the challenges we face ourselves.

But Faith Hill, following many Christian authors and song-writers before her, looks through the eyes of Mary and sees that her life is utterly changed by this particular baby, the saviour of the world.

We live in a world where many of us wonder, ‘What is the plot? Where do I fit in to the narrative? What is the point of my story?’ We may not verbalise it very often, but we spend a lot of time seeking happiness which often proves elusive or short-lived. At a point in the political life of our country, where so much has unravelled and nobody is articulating a new vision, we find ourselves disillusioned. It is precisely into the mess, into the evil and injustice, into the pain, into the power of the rich, that Jesus came and still comes. He comes to transform and enlighten the darkness, he comes to give hope to the lost. He longs to open our hearts to the reality that we are in fact made in the image of God. While humanity’s mantra is survival of the fittest, God’s mantra is hope for the poorest, hope for the unloved, hope for those addicted or in debt.

Christmas is about baby Jesus, but it always looks towards a new reality. The baby does change everything for Mary and Joseph, for the shepherds, the kings, but ultimately, he offers to change our hearts too. In another part of the Bible we are told The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

This is a great explanation for Advent. We are waiting as a pregnant mother waits, not with despondency, but with ever-deepening joyful anticipation. I hope in the weeks ahead you may sense that God has something to say to you in the arrival of Jesus; something to bring you hope. A word of healing, a word of restoration, a word to crack open our hard hearts because this baby does truly change everything. If you want to find out more about this life-changing Jesus why don’t you come along to our Jesus Shaped People course starting on the last Sunday of January.

Will you let God change your life this Christmas? May you seek and come to know God’s gift for you.

Every blessing

Alastair

Letter from Barry – November 2018

Dear Friends,

One of my primary school friends acquired the nickname ‘Dead Danny’. He had a habit of prefixing things with the adjective ‘dead’.  Sums, for example, were ‘dead boring’ whereas P.E. was ‘dead good.’  Barley Twists were ‘dead cheap’ but fags were ‘dead expensive’, so his Dad said.  One day our class was shown around the local church by the vicar.  Out in the churchyard we came across a grave dating back to the eighteenth century. ‘Blimey’, said Danny, ‘look at this one. He’s dead dead!’

Remembrance Sunday always brings Danny’s silly phrase to my mind. It’s obviously a day for recalling the dead, not of the eighteenth century but of the twentieth and now the twenty-first. This year, of course, Remembrance Sunday coincides with the centenary of the original Armistice Day, so the fallen of the First World War will be at the forefront of our minds. But whether they were  gunned down at the Somme, or shot down over Germany, or  torpedoed on an Arctic convoy, or killed in action in Burma, The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan or Iraq, they are all dead dead.  Some of them would certainly still be alive if they hadn’t bravely served their country when the need arose. If it hadn’t been for the courage of the men and women in the Armed and Merchant services, life for the rest of us would have been very different, or even dead different.

Those who surrendered their own lives undoubtedly saved the lives of others.  The debt of gratitude we still owe them is beyond reckoning.  The very least we should do is to consciously and ceremoniously remember their sacrifice once a year. 

The whole nation no longer comes to what Danny would call a dead stop at 11am on November 11th, but many people will be gathering at War Memorials and in churches to lay wreaths of poppies to honour the fallen, and possibly to hear their names read out  so that each individual sacrifice is recalled. Still others will be observing that two minutes silence, wherever they happen to be, to remember those who gave their all in the defence of freedom. We must never allow these dead dead to become the dead forgotten. 

Barry

The Vicar’s Letter – October 2018

Dear friends,

Last week I was at St Paul’s Manningham with a visiting Sri Lankan Priest. She and I went to share a simple lunch with the homeless and marginalised that St Paul’s works so hard to care and provide for. We talked to the vicar (also called Alistair!) and he said that their food stocks were running low and hoped that we would be able to support the project with our annual Harvest gift. As we ate and chatted, it felt a real privilege that our Church in Burley was, in a very tangible way, supporting this vital ministry. It is only a few miles away, but we are at the opposite ends of the deprivation index.

By the time you read this magazine we will have celebrated our Harvest festival at St Mary’s although there will be other celebrations at our schools to come. As I reflect on my visit to Manningham, it seems more and more urgent to think about our response to all that God has given us. Harvest is fundamentally about thankfulness; we thank God for all he has given us in the past and we praise God for sustaining our lives in the present. But thankfulness is rather hollow if we don’t have lives that respond in meaningful ways to God’s bountiful goodness. I realise that our culture is at best apathetic to the idea that God might provide for our needs, especially as our appetite keeps growing at a fast pace. At Church we have just looked at the Biblical passage in James chapter 2:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James is convinced that we show what is in our heart by the generosity of our response to the needy person God places before us. Jesus tells a story about a wealthy man who could think of nothing better than constantly building a bigger and bigger empire. Sadly, as our culture becomes less connected to God and more self-absorbed, Jesus’ picture is the way most people see their priorities.

So in this season of Harvest can I encourage us to stop for a moment and ask ourselves about our response to God’s lavish generosity. Christians use the word Stewardship to define the way that we look after all that God has given us. This has implications for the environment. How much do I recycle? How much energy do I waste? How much meat do I consume? It has implications for the things I purchase and the way I purchase them. Do I try and buy items that I know are ethically produced or sourced? Do I try and avoid companies known to avoid tax and treat their workers poorly? It has implications for the way we spend our money, use our talents and our time.

What time do I give to helping others? What little (or big) gestures can I do to support someone in need? Do I look for opportunities to be used by God to support others by means of my financial giving? Later this year we will be able to support the homeless of Bradford by volunteering at Inn Churches, a project that aims to give a warm and dry place to stay for homeless people throughout the winter.

When you give money to St Mary’s over half goes to support Churches in poorer parts of Bradford and Leeds. It supports our friends in Manningham and helps them to reach some of the most marginalised people living in our area. Let us remember the challenge of James that our talking the talk only means something if we walk the walk. Many of us living in Burley are very fortunate compared to the rest of the world so let us give generously because as Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Grace and Peace
Alastair


 

Letter from Lizzie

Dear Friends,

I hope you all had a lovely summer. It has certainly been sunny this year. I’ve enjoyed the chance to sit out in the evenings and the opportunity to rediscover get out all those summer clothes I‘ve not worn in ages.

It always pleases me how when the sun comes out and the temperature rises, two things seem to happen – people smile more and everyone slows down. Somehow it is harder to be busy or stressed when the weather is so warm and the sunshine calls you outside… It seems much more acceptable to just switch off and I often found myself lounging around in the garden with nothing particular to do. As I went round the village, there’d be families in the park under the trees, people on benches by the bowling green, kids chatting on walls and the smell of bbqs in the air. With the lazy goodwill of summer days, it’s easier not to care too much about the things I maybe worry about in colder weather. I also found it became easier to pray when my thoughts were free to meander in whichever way they wanted, rather than juggling all the various day to day things we fill our minds with. Autumn of course will be beautiful, but cooler, wetter and for most of us, busier, as September always seems to herald new starts.

Looking at my diary, things are booking up faster and faster and it will soon seem as though the lazy, leisurely days never even happened. But is that a good way to live? It is not particularly balanced! Perhaps I need to allow some of my summer habits to creep into the autumn days and disrupt the busyness a bit more. Taking a bit of time out might mean more smiles and less frantic activity and a closer connection to God – wouldn’t be a bad thing!

In a rather famous poem from an ancient book of the Bible called Ecclesiastes, the writer notes that” for everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven”. He lists the important stuff – a time to be born, a time to die, a time to weep, a time to dance- and so on, but I think it applies to the day to day just as much.

Perhaps there should be…
A time to enjoy a cup of tea and a time to boil the kettle for a friend
A time to take phone calls and a time to divert to ansafone
A time to rush around cleaning and a time to let the dust settle
A time to worry about what’s for tea and a time to open that tin of beans
A time to “get things done” and a time to wonder whether those” things” need doing
A time to do things for God and a time to simply be with God

So if you see me on a sun lounger in the garden, wrapped up in blankets, I might be trying to recreate something of the peaceful nature of the summer holidays!

Love, Lizzie

Lay Reader’s Letter – July 2018

Letter From Mary Brooks, Lay Reader

Dear Friends,

As I write we are all anticipating with excitement next week-end – one that will be filled with celebrations commemorating the 175th anniversary of the building of St Mary’s, though soon it will be a memory and we will be looking forward to the next event in our busy calendars!! Thinking along these lines has led me to reflect on the ‘business’ of our lives. By the time you read this it will be July and we will be in the midst of summer.

We read in Ecclesiastes 3 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:” and summer is the season when for many of us life takes on a different pace. Summer is perhaps for most of us our favourite season – long days, short nights, no school!! Summer is perhaps the season when we have most time to take seriously the entreaty “Be still and know that I am God”

Summer is an invitation to contemplate ordinary things; to use our senses to enjoy the sound of waves lapping a shore, the taste of juicy fruit, the warmth of sunlight on our skin, the faintly sweet smell of honeysuckle. These things are small and they may seem ordinary until we stop to really notice them for what they are: creation speaking to us about God. And for those who like to garden there is something very spiritual about tending to growth and watching beautiful things spring forth from the earth. We know the science behind such a thing as a flower’s growth, but really it is wondrous and mysterious too.

Summer is a time when the momentum of our lives is interrupted. It is for many holiday time. Part of the joy of a holiday is doing something different, having a break from the normal routine, getting away from the day to day pressures of struggling to get a task finished before the end of the working day, or rushing from one appointment to another in a very full diary.

However we spend our summer we need the chance “to recharge our batteries”, space for relaxation and unwinding – and time to think. Too often we get so caught up in the relentlessness of ordinary life that we never stop to ask where we are going and what it all means. It may be that this summer we need to take time to stand back and look at our lives and ask, “where is all this taking me?” What balance is there in my life between work and leisure, between home and work, between self and others? How might we adjust the balance in our own lives to make them better for ourselves and those close to us? Is my current life-style fair to me and to my family and friends? Does it enable me to make a proper contribution to the wider community, to nurture friendships, to become a more mature and rounded person? What do I need to change – what can I change?

I really hope that you all enjoy this summer season and that you find time to look around you and see the blessings that daily come your way, not just in nature but in all aspects of your life. The gift of life itself, the gift of people with whom to share it, the gift of clean water, of enough food … The list is endless.

Mary

The Vicar’s Letter – June 2018

Dear friends,

175 years ago, on 19th June 1843, Charles Thomas Longley, Lord Bishop of Ripon, held a service to consecrate the Church or Chapel of St Mary the Blessed Virgin, Burley-in-Wharfedale. The Church had cost an estimated £1,774 and the regular congregation was around 150 in the morning and 250 in the afternoon, which was approximately 20% of the village population at that time.

Many people in our community have been blessed by the presence of St Mary’s as the Parish Church of Burley. Six or seven generations of inhabitants have been baptised or married there. Today I have led a service to say goodbye to a 95-year-old inhabitant of Burley; one of literally thousands of people who have had their funeral services in the Church. These days, in a culture where our connection to Church is more limited, we still get almost 1000 people in Church on Christmas Eve; it is a sacred moment. For the last 175 years St Mary’s has been a vital part of the life of
the community.

Psychologists talk of warm and cold memories. Our lives are filled with both, but warm memories are the ones where just the scent of a flower or hearing a piece of music takes you back to a significant moment. Memories connect us to special events and people of the past, but memory also serves to help us learn from the past and be transformed. It is only as we reflect on situations that we can seek to change the way we will react to the same stimulus if it were to happen again. Otherwise life merely becomes a re-enactment of the same situations over and over again, cleverly depicted in the film classic Groundhog Day.

The Bible, as God’s word to us, reminds us of Gods faithfulness in the past. When we are in the midst of crisis we often need to remember how God walked alongside us in times past, which gives us faith and hope that he will continue to do so in the present and future. We easily forget God’s presence and the result is self-reliance, which ultimately moves us further and further from God’s loving embrace.

I would love many from the village to celebrate with us at St Mary’s in the coming month. The Parish Church is your Church. Come and dance the evening away at a family ceilidh at the Queen’s Hall on 23rd June and join us for worship on the 24th June. We will be joined by the Bishop of Leeds, Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, who will preach and there will be a bouncy castle and a BBQ afterwards.

One of the things we would like to do to commemorate 175 years of St Mary’s is to ask the whole community to look through their photo albums and wardrobes for items that link us to our past. If you have photographs of the Church Choir or your baptism or wedding, Sunday school outings, Whitsuntide walks etc., or If you have an old baptismal gown or wedding dress that was worn decades ago, then we would love to create a collection, a community memory that will go on display during festival week.

As we celebrate and remember the past, I pray that this anniversary will inspire us to enthusiastically face the future, continuing to be a sacred, serving peaceful and dare-I-say-it, transcendent place in our community.

This is a historic moment for St Mary’s, but it is also a historic moment for the village. Come and be part of it. Let’s celebrate!

Alastair