Rector’s Blog – August 2012.
I think the question in my last entry as to whether summer had arrived proved to be somewhat premature as we have endured more than our fair share of rain even by Dartmoor’s standards and this year’s summer has turned out to be a rather damp affair.
This was reinforced to me when I stepped off a plane at Exeter Airport from foreign shores. I knew I was home: it was tipping down with rain. We joke that when we see the Devon Road sign on the M5 we can guarantee that it will start raining as soon as we cross back into Devon. Am I the only one to notice this?
The weather has not helped the many brides who have been married this summer in the Mission Community. Some photographs have been taken in church rather than in wind-swept graveyards. Many have had a day to remember, largely because of the weather.
Already our thoughts are turning to the changing seasons with autumn fast approaching with the new school term on our doorstep. I was reminded this week of the glory of Psalm 8:
When I look up at your heavens,
The work of your fingers,
At the moon and the stars you have set in place,
What is a frail mortal,
That you should be mindful of him,
A human being,
That you should take notice of him?
The answer, for us who call ourselves Christians, is to marvel at the grace of God. The grace that did bother to take the initiative in sending Christ to live among us, to die on the cross and to be raised on the third day; it is that grace that sustains us even when it is tipping down with rain. Many have much worse to endure.
2nd May 2012. Has Summer arrived?
A walk along the old railway line from Princetown to Walkhampton is exhilarating at any time but no more so than when the sun is on your back and a gentle breeze is blowing you homeward, assisting you down from the Moor in addition to the lazy decline offered by the route of the long abandoned railway.
What was also exceptional about today were the birds, all chirping away and scurrying along: A family of Long Tailed Tits darting into one of the few trees available to them; a lone heron making haste slowly against the head wind; numerous Sky Larks catching my attention with an inordinate amount of noise as I passed by; Chaffinches, Gold Finches, even a solitary Swallow making the most of some early morning catch raced in front of me. Meadow Pipits (unfairly described as “dull” in one birding book I have) were busy along the grassy edges of the track as were Wheatears and the occasional Stonechat.
Yet what made it for me this morning were not the birds I saw but the sole bird I heard: a Cuckoo. Clear and distinct, breaking through the silence, I stopped and listened to that most distinct of all bird calls ringing out across the Moor. I could hear the general direction from which it was calling but despite moving some way towards it I did not see it – but I knew it was there because I heard it calling as clear as a bell.
That caused me to pause and wonder about the action of the Holy Spirit. “Spirit of God unseen as the wind” so the song goes – just like that Cuckoo calling this morning. You know it’s there but you often don’t see it or only catch a fleeting glimpse, but it’s real none the less.
Rector's Blog: The Hound of Hilarity February 2012
I’ve just finished reading The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was a good read even though I half remembered the plot from various TV Series and Films of the story. There is something about living in the place where it was set that makes the story come to life. Mention of Black Tor, Vixen Tor and the Prison were things I did not have to imagine in my mind’s eye. I can see them virtually every day if I choose to. Other places in the story are fictional such as Grimpen Mire and Baskerville Hall but my mind can make associations with real places on the Moor which must have inspired Conan Doyle such as Fox Tor Mire and wonderful buildings such as Tor Royal.
And so on a slate grey Tuesday I set off for an early morning walk across the Moor with Conan Doyle’s story very much in mind. I was dropped close to Black Tor which allowed me to meander down towards the railway track enjoying the view towards Vixen Tor with the panorama of Cornish hills disappearing into the low lying cloud in the distance. The temperate weather has made the Moor springy under foot and the sponge that is Dartmoor gave up a little of its water with each step. I made my way towards Walkhampton Church musing over the splendour of creation. Into my mind came our early Morning Prayer at St Paul’s where yesterday we had remembered George Herbert and at 7.45 had settled for saying “Let all the world in every corner sing my God and King” rather than singing it.
No Hound of Hell was circling me as I made my descent; only a hound of hilarity, one brainless Springer Spaniel who thinks Christmas has come early whenever her lead is taken off the hook by the back door and each walk is greeted with unlimited enthusiasm.
Warhorse also came to mind. Another story based in Devon by Michael Morpurgo and now a Hollywood blockbuster by Steven Speilberg. Some of the film was shot at Sheepstor and the film opens with a sweeping panorama of Burrator and Sheepstor. Can we style ourselves as ‘Warhorse Country’ in the same way that Holmfirth is Last of the Summer Wine Country? Which is more appealing: the fog-bound mystery of Conan Doyle’s Moor or the rolling green countryside and sweeping panoramas of Warhorse? Well both have their appeal. The brooding mystery of the fog and mist evoke a spine-tingling fear captured so well by Conan Doyle and the lush green rolling country surrounding the Moor also speaks of a world that it is a pleasure to live in.
It is not just the lush green pastures that speak of God. Even the dark corners of the world need to sing my God and King and living on Dartmoor I have ample opportunity to sample both – often on the same day…
Rector’s Blog – November 2011
We’ve just come through a rather solemn part of our year with All Saints, All Souls and more recently Remembrance Sunday. Year on year the numbers of those attending our Remembrance Services increase. It is hard to work out why this is happening. The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan no doubt has an effect as most people here know of someone who is serving there but I do wonder if there is a growing awareness of the need to call to mind those who have died in the conflicts on the last century and this century?
We are still miles away from the vision of Micah that swords will be beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks but we meet to remember, to pray for peace and to dedicate ourselves afresh to the service of God and each other. If this didn’t strike a chord with so many people then they wouldn’t come. So in some way Remembrance Sunday hits the spot. It makes people stop for two minutes and reflect. It is a very powerful thing to happen – when people stop and attend to the inner voice that all too often is drowned out by the clamour of daily life.
This is not just an occasion commemorated by those of us who are going grey. The schools actively engage in the process as well. It is All Age Worship – not in the style of Messy Church maybe but equally as moving and worthwhile.
Rector’s Blog 13 August 2011.
Today was the 70th Anniversary of RAF Harrowbeer at Yelverton. The weather could have been kinder – but then it is August. Hundreds of people gathered for a service of Remembrance on the WWII airfield and we were joined by many from the British Legion as well as Air Cadets and dignitaries from near and far. We gathered to remember events from a lifetime ago that still resonate today. As the Roll of Honour of those who had died whilst based at the Airfield was read out it was a very stark reminder that most of those who died were very young men – some in their early 20’s. Someone mused with me after the service, “I wonder what they would have made of the rioting across the country in the last week?” I had no answer. I also wondered…
I finished the service with an introduction to the blessing which was only partly picked up on the PA system that “God may lead us along the paths of peace…” The events of this week make me think that we are still a long way from finding those paths despite the huge sacrifices that others have made in the past.
Rector’s Blog 25 June 2011
It’s not often I feel the need to look up a word in the dictionary but contumacious was a new one on me. It means insubordinate, stubbornly or wilfully disobedient to a court order. The context in which I came across it was in the Order of Service for my installation as a Prebendary of Exeter Cathedral. I don’t make a habit of parading my ignorance of the English language but took much comfort from the fact that no one else knew the meaning of this word either!
The Acting Dean: Will the Verger ascertain if there are any contumacious persons without?
Verger: All is well without, Mr Acting Dean.
The Acting Dean: Let the great doors be opened.
And with this strange exchange completed the procession left the Chapter House and processed into the Cathedral: The Bishop, The Acting Dean, The College of Canons – all vested in copes.
On entering the Cathedral I found myself seated outside the Quire awaiting my installation. Then oaths were sworn, kind words said about me by the Bishop before I was led and pushed into my stall (St Augustine of Canterbury) by two sponsoring canons. All this was accompanied by some magnificent singing by the Cathedral Choir and in the presence of a large congregation which included some 50 people who had made the journey to Exeter to support me for the service from the Benefice.
My reflections on the service are this: I came away feeling part of something much bigger than the Benefice and buoyed up by the support of family and friends. It was a humbling experience to see so many come to support me. It was service of strange words and strange customs. As we processed out of the cathedral back to the Chapter House I encountered one final strange custom: I was presented with a bread roll –my stipend as a Prebendary! At last I am in receipt of a stipend after all these years as a self-supporting minister!
Rector’s Blog 19 May 2011
Today is a big day for me – I hand in my final work for the Photography degree I have been pursing. It marks the end of three years work. There is a sense of “phew! Made it!” There is also a sense of “What now?” The “now and the not yet” is the tension we live with each day as Christians.
I know that as I write this, people I know are in hospital having operations; other families are grieving at the loss of loved ones, others are preparing for weddings this weekend, and others await the birth of their child: That is their “now” and for each of them there must be questions of “what next?”…treatment for cancer…picking yourself up after a death of a loved one… a new life together…how will the baby impact on our lives?... That is their “not yet” – their future. However much we try to plan our futures we do not know what lies ahead. That is why we as Christians walk by faith. In times like this I like to remind myself of the words of the Psalmist:
Commit your way to the Lord;
Trust in him, and he will act.
RECTOR'S BLOG 30th March 2011
“Hopelessly out of date!” That’s what I was told at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting last night. What is? This blog as it has not been added to since last August. On the one hand my immediate response was to think “Why is it people always find something to complain about?” and on the other hand I thought, “This is good. People are reading it!”
So what has been on my mind? Musing about the nature of ordained ministry has been much on my mind of late. I look around the area and see colleagues off ill with stress, serious illness, having immense difficulties in their roles and problems that beset the rest of humanity… and I then realise that clergy are not immune from these things: it’s just that when the wheels come off the stakes are so much higher when you set yourself up as a public professional Christian. St Paul lays it on with a trowel in 1 Timothy chapter 3:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
No wonder Paul asks for prayer for himself and his fellow workers in the Gospel. And yet St Paul knows all too well his own limitations and weaknesses. He summed them up in 2 Corinthians 12.7-10:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
No one knows what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. Some have speculated it was a physical or mental illness, others that it was someone who constantly dogged him throughout his ministry. Whatever it was he was not miraculously cured of this thorn in the flesh.
Well by the grace of God I am what I am – warts ‘n all! Finally, the old adage that all political careers end in failure seems equally applicable to ministerial careers. It is a given – we are all imperfect human beings living by the grace of God and those of us who care, know all too well our weaknesses. I am no St Paul, but like him, I would happily wish my thorns in the flesh would go away as well, but I know it’s not going to happen…
“They haven’t got permission to build this monastery. They’ve just gone ahead and done it…” That was the response I got from a tour guide in Romania whom I asked about a brand new monastery that was being constructed in the middle of the Romanian countryside by the Orthodox Church.
I mused to myself, “I wonder what English Heritage or Dartmoor National Park would make of that?” Visions of new church buildings mysteriously appearing overnight across Dartmoor sprang into my mind (although I’d happily settle for existing useable buildings to be fit for 21st century worship!) as well as the money, the amenity societies and the faceless bureaucrats being realistic about what needs to be done, and the wherewithal to make it happen. (Perhaps I ask too much).
I was visiting a country that finds itself 20 years post-communism, a country emerging from the shackles of a regime that was toppled with the fall of Ceausescu in 1989, and one which is now a member of the European Union. I saw evidence of new churches springing up across the country in a situation were many people still lived in relative poverty.
The contrast with our situation in the UK was stark. By comparison with Romania, we are far wealthier yet we struggle to maintain our churches. Friends’ organizations are springing up to help and, whilst their efforts are very welcome and commendable, I fear that they are simply sticking a plaster on a much deeper spiritual malaise that is affecting us all. The underlying cause of our predicament is a mass turning away from God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ. People are happy to believe in a notion of God but do not want to be tied down to believing in the God revealed to us in the Bible. To use someone else’s phrase we are into “believing without belonging”. We are living in times where “each person did what was right in their own eyes” and the results are there for all to see: closing churches, declining congregations, spiritual apathy and depression. It is a spiritual battle that we face to present the Good News of Jesus Christ afresh to this generation. Church buildings can be an expensive distraction to that task but they can also act as a spiritual barometer of the importance of faith in any given community. What does a dilapidated and uncared for building say to those who are looking on? It speaks of decay, decline and closure. It tells them something about the relative priority people place on the importance of that building and by association reflects on what they think about God.
As someone who firmly believes God is not past his sell-by date the challenge facing all of us is to live lives worthy of our calling. The prophet Jeremiah did not fancy the task of bringing God’s message to his generation. His call, as described in Jeremiah chapter 1, may sum up how many of us feel about the task we face as Christians: ill-equipped, under-resourced, too young/old; not great orators – in fact we can come up with a whole heap of reasons why someone else would be much better at doing things for God rather than us. However, like Jeremiah, we have to face the reality that we are the ones called to proclaim the Good News – and God will give us the words to say and will go with us on our journey, keeping us safe as we go. If we don’t do it, no one else will. There is no plan B.
As many of you know as well as being Rector I am pursuing a life as a photographer by studying at Plymouth College of Art. I recently completed an exhibition at Duchy Square Centre for Creativity with some fellow students and one of the images I exhibited was this one:
As a photographer I bring what and who I am to that discipline which includes my faith. The image I set up with Walkhampton Football Team was a re-take of da Vinci’s Last Supper. The image operates on a number of levels: on one level it is an interesting way of taking a team photo which is something different from the usual shot of all the footballers lined up, arms crossed, with a football at their feet. On another level the image says something about our obsession with celebrity and football, particularly in the middle of a World Cup. On yet another level the image operates to jar us into thinking about the Eucharist and Christ. I quote from an e-mail I received from a Curate in Oxford Diocese this week:
Just wanted to say ‘Good on You!’
As someone pioneering evangelism to un-churched men here in the Oxford dio, I thought your idea with the local football team was fab!
For most of those blokes, it must have been the only time in their lives they had any personal involvement in the Eucharist and, if it made them, and the millions of other blokes in the UK stop, even for a moment, to think what the Last Supper was all about, then that’s brilliant!
With Kind regards
The PR consultant working for the Duchy Centre issued a press release on Monday which featured the photo. This was taken up by the Western Morning News. That was published on Tuesday. Before 9 o’clock in the morning the phone was ringing with 2 news agencies asking if they could promote the image to the National Press. As a result of their interest on Wednesday the image appeared on page 31 of The Sun (not page 3) under the caption God Squad. I have also been interviewed by the BBC and the image now appears on BBC Devon Website. Premier Christian Radio in London has conducted an interview and the Diocesan Communication Officer has been in touch to follow up the story. Tavy Times have run the picture on their front page this week.
Some have asked if the image is offensive. My answer to that is I sincerely hope not. It may jolt you but I hope it makes you reflect on your faith as it is asking questions about what is important to you. It has been a good week. The image has brought a lot of happiness to the area. It has provided a talking point. The lads in the team are really excited about getting national press coverage, the team sponsor is happy and I have been able to speak about the Gospel with a great many people as well as pursuing my photographic career.
Finally, in case you think I’m getting rich on the sale of this image – by the time the News Agency and PR people take their cut I will get £80 gross for this image…so after tax I may see £50 – but it’s not about the money – but for the curious I thought you’d like to know. Nick
Some have asked that I write a blog now and again. In the past, I have put some of my sermons online. In doing so, I have been surprised how many people have commented to me that they have read them. In church the sermon is not an interactive event; it is a set piece and is part of the liturgy. So I thought I would put online my sermon from Pentecost and invite comments on it. I would like to hear from you. For example, I would like to know if you find having the sermon online something that is useful. Let me know your thoughts: communication is a two-way street. Simply use the contact us tab to send your comments.
Revd Nick Shutt, Rector.
Pentecost 2010 Yelverton 23 May 2010
Have you ever tried using one of those online translation tools on your computer? The idea is that you type what you want to say and then ask the computer programme to translate what you have written into the language that you want. Some years ago when I was president of the Twinning I had to prepare a speech which I had to deliver in French. Unfortunately my French is appalling so I typed what I wanted to say into the computer and pressed the translate button. I wanted to finish my speech by asking everyone present to raise their glasses for a toast to celebrate our time together. The trouble is the computer translated my request to raise your glasses for a toast as raise you glasses for a piece of toast – fortunately this elementary error was spotted before I made a complete fool of myself asking our French friends to eat some toast rather than downing a celebratory drink.
Language is a tool we all employ and in Genesis we have the story of the tower of Babel which is the Biblical writers’ way of trying to understand how we all came to speak so many different languages. For them the question of different language was there as a sign that humanity had over-reached itself and that language then became a barrier to prevent that from happening.
It is a key element of that first Pentecost that everyone, who had gathered together from across the known world, heard the disciples speak in their own language.
The barrier that had separated people for so long had been torn down. The coming of the Holy Spirit had ushered in a new age, an age in which language was no longer going to be a barrier. St Peter saw the coming of the Holy Spirit as bringing the end times, a time when everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
Now before we get too carried away we know that language is still a barrier. At that first Pentecost not everyone who witnessed what was happening believed what they heard. They had a different explanation – they were all drunk – and they scoffed at all the excitement that was happening around them.
Now to this day there are many, if not the majority, who prefer to scoff at the claims of Christ and who prefer an alternative explanation to the coming of the Holy Spirit. But please note that on the first Pentecost, despite all these miraculous happenings with mighty winds and tongues of fire, there was still a need for Peter to stand up and give a rational explanation of what was happening. There are a number of things to note about Peter’s speech:
First, he refuted the claims they were drunk.
Secondly, he used scripture to point out to people what was going on.
Thirdly, empowered by the Holy Spirit, he directed people to Jesus.
Perhaps this is a very simple pattern that we can employ when we speak to people.
First we can refute false claims.
Secondly, we can use scripture to help people understand what is happening.
Thirdly, we can point people to Jesus Christ.
Now this begs a few questions that we need to address.
We need to be equipped to be able to think about the claims other world views have. What do you say to someone who is an atheist or agnostic? Have you considered how you will be able to make a defence of your faith?
In doing so, would you be able to point to scripture to assist you in refuting those claims and would you be confident in pointing people to Christ?
Now, we are not all called to be like St Peter and to clamber onto the worldwide stage. Our stage may be small but it is just as important. Your stage may be home, work, your friends and neighbours, those who you chat with at the school gate or in your clubs and pubs. And I am not advocating that you become the religious nut who puts everyone off God – but you should not use that as an excuse for not proclaiming the Good News.
One of the jobs I do for the Bishop is seeing people who are considering putting themselves forward for ordination. One of the questions I ask them is “tell me what it means to be a Christian?” You will be amazed what sort of answers I get and it tells me a great deal about how well people are living their faith. So I put that question to all of you this morning as we celebrate once again the coming of the Holy Spirit – “Tell me what it means to be a Christian?” What would you say? It’s worth thinking about isn’t it?
Maybe before we try speaking in foreign languages we had better work out what we want to say in English when it comes to having the joy of the Lord Jesus directing and empowering us through the action of the Holy Spirit.