Words from the Vicar
Weekly newsletter from Richard Howlett, Team Vicar
with special responsibility for St Benedict’s, Bennett’s End and St Mary’s, Apsley End
Our roadmap out of restrictions
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, the C of E have issued detailed guidelines for churches to consider their own road out of lockdown These recognise the need for care as we are in the midst of the third wave of the pandemic. Following a meeting last weekend to consider our risk assessment for worship, we have arrived at our own ‘roadmap’ to work towards a resumption of the ‘normal’ aspects of church missed by us all.
In brief this is what should happen:
- From Sun 8th August (10am service is at St Benedict’s) You will no longer be required to sign up beforehand. We do ask that you complete sign-in on arrival in church to assist track and trace should that prove necessary. We also ask that masks continue to be worn, out of consideration for other worshippers, including when singing hymns.
- Please also note that Communion will continue in one kind only, and the Peace will continue to be shared without physical contact.
- All pews will be available, but we ask that anyone wanting more ‘space’ around them take a laminated sign which says ‘please leave this space clear’ and place it beside them, so others know not to sit too close.
- Kneelers should not be used. (Kneeling brings you too close to anyone sitting in front)
- From 15th August (1030 Benefice service in St Mary’s-outside weather permitting) Worshippers will be encouraged to come up to the altar to receive communion (if you need communion brought to you, please tell one of the people on duty)
- From September we shall aim to resume Sunday School (which is now having an August break) and Messy Church and Buzzy Bees in St Mary’s. We aim to recommence teas and coffees after church. Art Club will also start up again in St Benedict’s . (More details will follow)
- From October We aim to once again have Saturday café in St Mary’s church.
Baptisms will continue to be at the front of church, in both St Benedict’s and St Mary’s, using the portable font, to keep those attending, and officiating clergy, as safe as possible. The wardens and I are hopeful that this plan will ensure we can all move back to those aspects of church life that so many people have missed during the past 17 months or so.
The following words of scripture came to mind which seem particularly helpful at this time : “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2 v. 4. Let’s all help one another to make this work.
With our love and prayers , Richard and Katherine.
A cautious and careful approach
On Friday 16th July, Bishop Sarah Mullally , who chairs the Church of England’s Recovery Group, said: “The relaxation of restrictions on Monday (19th July) is only possible because of the vaccination programme which has reduced the percentage of those with Covid who become seriously ill or die. We are indebted to all who have developed and administered the vaccines and we encourage anyone who has not yet done so to take advantage of the protection they offer. Many will welcome the possibilities now before us, not least increased numbers at life events and a long awaited return of congregational and amateur choir singing.
However, this is a difficult point in the course of the pandemic. Despite vaccination rates, cases are up, hospital admissions are up and long covid remains an ongoing concern. Therefore our approach needs to be cautious and careful. Taking personal responsibility means responsibility for our neighbour, not just for ourselves, and taking precautions to protect those more vulnerable than we consider ourselves to be. Local church leaders know their communities and their own circumstances, and we will support them making local decisions to keep themselves and their community safe. We would ask everyone to support those making local decisions and respect risk assessments, which are in place to protect everyone as we enter the next phase.“
The wardens of St Mary’s and St Benedict’s and I are concerned to balance the natural desire of those who wish to return to worship ‘as normal’ with those who are understandably anxious and who might not come if they do not feel reasonably safe in church.
The C of E have issued detailed guidelines for churches to consider. This embraces not only what happens on Sunday, but the many other aspects of church life, including weddings and baptisms and funerals, hospitality- such as coffee after services and Saturday café- and our outreach activities, such as Buzzy Bees and Solo lunch.
We are required to work through these, and to risk-assess them to decide what seems wise across so many of these activities. As Harry Graham-Brown has said in verbal church notices, we ask your patience. The third wave of the pandemic , as we all know, is in progress, and we, along with many other organisations, will need to adopt a cautious and careful approach, as part of caring for all God’s people.
May I end with wise words from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians from our service in St Benedict’s last Sunday :
“The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God, and the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
With our love and prayers , Richard and Katherine.
With the partial easing of lockdown measures which went ahead during May, many people in our congregations will have taken the opportunity to see loved ones. It has been a long and difficult period for many, deprived of physical contact with their families and friends. I’m sure we all give thanks for the opportunity to be re-united with some of our loved ones. I was also able to visit a parishioner in a nursing home, and it was worth the Covid test and protective gear just to be in the same room, and to enjoy one another’s company after so much painful separation.
It has been completely understandable that we have missed seeing many of our regular worshippers during this period. I hope, however, with such links being joyfully re-established, we can once again welcome many of our families to church. I’m sure you would want to join me in thanking those who have kept Sunday School and Messy Church running, through lockdowns and when church was open, during this past 15 months. Like so much that makes church good, these activities are run by volunteers, who are choosing to offer their time to prepare resources and deliver them, faithfully, week by week or month by month. I trust that we will want to make every effort, as people of faith, to encourage these volunteers to keep going, by supporting what they are doing by good attendance on Sundays. Messy Church will be holding its last session this Sunday, 4th July, before the summer break, and I’d like to wish the whole team a well-earned break.
I am sorry that we have had to postpone some July events mentioned in my last newsletter (Edition 44), namely the Bring and Share lunch on 4th July and the concert planned for 14th July. It is hoped that we will be able to hold our events once Government guidance declares it is safe enough to do so.
We are still holding our special service at St Benedict’s at 10am on 18th July, to celebrate any from St Mary’s or St Benedict’s who have had significant birthdays or anniversaries during the past 15 months. Please let me know as soon as possible by email or telephone if you’d like your date and occasion to be included in our thanksgiving to God that day.
During my Retreat a couple of week ago, I read Rowan Williams ‘Candles in the dark: Faith, hope and love in a pandemic’ (SPCK 2020). It’s a series of weekly meditations written from March to September 2020 for his local church. I can’t recommend it highly enough, for its ability to express deep truths with a carefully crafted language. One of Dr Williams’ reflections was on the feast of St Matthias. He notes that we know very little about Matthias, but clearly Matthias had an important, if low-profile, part to play in the story of the early Church. He draws an exemplar there for us all: “There is a heroism in the daily rhythm; making the small differences you can make, at home, online, wherever, in small courtesies and kindnesses, in assuring others that they are not alone”
Let’s all re-commit to preserving, and supporting, all that makes up the ‘daily rhythm’ of our life as a church; we are all needed, on-line as well as in church, and everyone’s contribution is known to, and valued by God. (Pl.see Matthew 6.4)
With our love and prayers, Richard and Katherine.
It was frustrating that the internet broadcast went down just as Sylvia was giving an announcement after last Sunday’s service. I expect most people have heard by now, but this is the text of the announcement Lizzie sent to all our churches:
We have some news which is being shared in all the churches of our Benefice today: The Revd Richard Howlett has decided to retire on 30th September this year. He has been in post for four and a half years, principally serving the parishes of St Mary’s, Apsley, and St Benedict’s, Bennetts End. Richard contracted Covid last October and continues to suffer the long term effects, which can be very debilitating. He and Katherine feel that the time is right to take this next step in their lives, and they will be making their new home in Tonbridge, Kent. Richard has been a valued colleague in our ministry team. Please pray for him and Katherine as they prepare for this enormous change; for Richard’s health; for the congregations of St Mary’s and St Benedict’s as they absorb this news; and for the ministry team as it begins to plan the way ahead. Thank you.
Let’s get together. Now I’m retiring, I can begin to quote a phrase from old sources like Roxy Music without embarrassment! I fully understand that some people are still nervous of coming into church, but the PCC felt it was crucial for us to re-start opportunities for fellowship, which we have all missed so much during the pandemic. Hopefully, infections data and weather will be kind to us, so we can enjoy the summer weather and see one another in the flesh.
We would love to welcome you to one or more of the following events at St Mary’s and St Benedict’s (please put them in your diaries/calendars now, and let’s start to ‘be’ church again)
Sun 4th July. Bring and share lunch at St Mary’s. (It will be helpful to know who is bringing savouries, and who is bringing dessert dishes)
Weds 14th July 7.15 pm the popular ‘Sitting Room singers’ will be performing at St Benedict’s. The popular ‘Sitting Room singers’ will be performing at St Benedict’s. To reserve a place please contact Bob Day 01442737494l or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sun 18th July St Benedict’s: service to celebrate those from St Mary’s and St Benedict’s who have had significant birthdays or anniversaries during lockdown. Are you one of them? Let me know and we’ll book you in and give thanks to God together.
Sun 15th August Benefice service and Bring and Share lunch at St Mary’s
Sat 11th September Barbecue lunchtime as part of weekend events for St Mary’s 150th celebrations (bishop Alan is preaching and celebrating on Sun 12th at St Mary’s.)
Sun 26th Sept. Harvest service in St Mary’s and bring+share lunch; this will be my and Katherine’s last Sunday in church, and it would be lovely to catch up with people)
With our love and prayers, Richard and Katherine.
“It is written ‘man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” Matthew 4.4.
At St Benedict’s, there is a display of food and other items to help those in need. Nearby there is another table with the invitation : ‘Why not take something to feed your soul ?’ Although some items are picked up, I would love it if more were taken. Encouraging feedback from people at St Mary’s and St Benedict’s who enjoyed the material I provided for Advent, Lent and Thy Kingdom Come suggests more could benefit from something that helps with a few minutes daily reflection on God’s word. I know some of you do this. Katherine and I, for example, have been receiving UCB’s ‘The Word for Today’ for over 15 years and it has often spoken with amazing accuracy into whatever was going on for us. It has so often fed us when we needed God’s caution, encouragement, or advice.
I’d be happy to get you a copy to try if you haven’t already used it. Just drop me an email or phone me and I’ll get you one. There are, of course, other devotionals, and if this doesn’t suit you why not try another? An internet search would turn up several from providers like CWR, BRF and so on. Please accept my encouragement to feed your soul and mind as well as the body.
Volunteers needed for St Benedict’s community food table. Since this opened on Wednesdays from 21st April, a number of people have been glad come to get some items to help their situation. Father James tells me he now has a volunteer for St Benedict’s who can help with receiving donations and replenishing the display at St Benedict’s. If we can get three more, these volunteers could be on a four-weekly rota and would be able to cover for sickness and holidays. Please will you or someone you know be able to help? Let me know and I will be glad to pass the details on.
News from the Vicarage
Since contracting Covid in October 2020, and returning to work in December, I have continued to battle the ongoing effects of ‘long Covid’. Katherine and I have been praying about the future, for I shall be 65 on 27th August. After discussion and prayer with Bishop Michael, we have decided it will be right to retire with effect from 30th September.
This is my fifth year of service as a Team Vicar in the Benefice of Langelei, and I have counted it a privilege to work with everyone in the Team, and of course with the good people of St Benedict’s and St Mary’s. In the meantime, Katherine and I will enjoy continuing to serve God with you over the next few months, as well as preparing to move to our future home in Tonbridge, Kent. We shall be praying for you as you absorb this change and will be extremely glad of your ongoing prayers for us as we think about the big change of leaving stipendiary ministry and moving to a new area in the autumn.
With our love and prayers, Richard and Katherine.
We’d love to see you!
Last Sunday, Pentecost, we had four ‘household’ spaces not used at St Mary’s. We have revised our risk assessment at St Mary’s, and can now accommodate 13 households. Congregations have been very kind, holding back to allow space for people who want to be physically in church, but please now just ‘book in’ if you’d like to come, (whether at St Benedict’s or St Mary’s) and it will be ‘first come first served’. We shall still keep a space for visitors who want to ‘drop in’- that is always part of our mission of hospitality and welcome, even as we continue under the Covid restrictions.
The arrangements for the next 4 weeks will be as follows:
Sun 6 June 10am St Mary’s, Richard presiding
Sun 13th June 10am St Benedict’s (Father James presiding- Richard at All Saints, King’s Langley.)
Thursday 17th June. We shall resume Thursday worship at St Mary’s: Holy Communion at 9.30, led by Father James, and Bible study – distanced – in the Refectory – also led by Father James. (I am on annual retreat that week so please keep me in your prayers).
Sun 20th June 10am Bob Day will lead Morning Worship at St Benedict’s.
10 am Father’s Day Family Communion at St Mary’s led by Richard
Sun 27th June St Peter and St Paul Holy Communion from St Benedict’s led by Richard
Thanks to everyone for prayers and good wishes while I was unwell. My GP has emphasised that I am still affected by long Covid and must build in more rest and adjust my desire to meet every expectation. The retreat leader and writer Brian Draper was reflecting on Radio 4 recently how he and his wife have been unwell with long Covid for over a year. He said he had had to adjust the pace of life, but in doing so, had found God there. He spoke of how he had gained new insights, being alongside others who also had had to step away from living life at the hectic modern pace, yet still experiencing times of fullness of joy in living life where they were.
None of us wants to have to slow down, or indeed to wait. Advertising and commerce have thrived on the (false) promise that we can ‘have it all and have it now’ . In his excellent book ‘Finding happiness’ Abbot Christopher Jamison observes “ it is strange that while contemporary society places so much emphasis on external freedom, interior freedom is often given short shrift.” He goes on to contrast that with the monastic world, where “the interior world is a place of freedom”. When illness, or injury, or external forces like lockdowns or unemployment or caring responsibilities cause us to be restricted in our choices, we have a choice: rage about what we miss or look to see what God is saying. Sometimes, as Brian Draper found, there are sources of peace and joy to be found which we would never have noticed or encountered when we rushed along in the fast lane. Maybe we can all gracefully accept Jesus’ invitation to ‘come aside’ and find rest for our souls, even when external demands feel so hard.
With our love and prayers, Richard and Katherine.
Firstly, I gave out a warning after last Sunday’s Communion service, and I’d like to repeat it here. If you receive an email or text apparently from me or another member of the team clergy requesting urgent money or Google Play vouchers, gift cards or whatever, please DO NOT RESPOND TO IT. The clergy will not contact you in this manner! Jesus warned his followers “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (Matt.10.16). Don’t be fearful but do be alert: none of us wants to fall prey to these wicked schemes.
Following St Benedict’s and St Mary’s APCMs, please keep our newly elected PCCs members and also our wardens and assistant wardens in your prayers .
The month of May sees Christian Aid Week , which starts with a special joint all-age service at St Mary’s on 9th May. Please attend, either in person, or online. Christian Aid is supporting climate justice, for these issues often impact the very poorest. More details can be found at https://www.christianaid.org.uk/. There will be some resources available to take away, including copies of a seven-day devotional and giving envelopes in church.
Also, in May, we shall once again be taking part in Thy Kingdom Come :
- Come to our special launch Communion service at 930am on Ascension Day- Thursday 13th May- at St Mary’s and why not stay on to receive a free Thy Kingdom Come daily prayer journal and share in a study from it at 10.15am? ? Archbishop Stephen Cottrell writes “In the time between Ascension Day and Pentecost, Thy Kingdom Come is a gift to refresh our faith, especially if we felt isolated from our community or our Church during this difficult time… each day there are a few things to read, a prayer to offer and then an invitation for you to make your own reflections.” Weather permitting, we might sit outside together for the study time at 10.15, which will last no more than an hour.
- There are interactive digital family prayer maps available– just download the TKC Map AR APP for augmented reality games and videos. Pick one up from church at St Benedict’s on Wednesdays , St Mary’s on Thursdays, or in Sunday services.
- A day of quiet and space for Thy Kingdom Come on Saturday 22nd May at St Mary’s, starting with Morning Prayer at 10am. We hope people will drop into St Mary’s , drinking in its ability to provide a ‘Quiet Space’ away from the familiar places where we have spent so much time during lockdown. The church will be open for you throughout the day to drop in and pray and be still. The day will end with Evening Prayer at 4pm.
Finally, thanks to those who have so far responded to the appeal for the community foodbanks at St Mary’s and St Benedict’s. I am conscious there may also be need for some food within our church worshipping communities. If this applies to you, please feel free to visit the foodbanks to help yourself to take anything you need? They really are for everyone.
With our love and prayers , Richard and Katherine.
“ All things come from you, and of your own do we give you” (1Chronicles 29 v14)
These words were always used at the Offertory (the point where we give donations in the service) at the church I attended when I was young. The words challenged me, for it always seemed that the money I had saved, or worked for, was 100% mine! Yet those words from the Bible remind us of a truth: from God’s perspective we are stewards over whatever resources we control in this life, not permanent owners. After all, “We brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out” ((1 Tim. 6 v7). We are all aware that the Coronavirus pandemic has accentuated the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Debt levels, unemployment, and demands on charities have all increased.
When our daughter was small, we would encourage her to share something she’d been given, such as a bar of chocolate. I still remember how she would break off the most miniscule piece and place it solemnly in one’s hand. She was doing what she had been asked but doing the minimum. Yet we are also told “God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9.7). Maybe each of us recognises times when we have reacted a bit like that? Happily, our daughter has grown up to be a committed and generous Christian, honouring God with generous giving of her time and money.
I write these things because we are, as Christians, living in times where many are in desperate need, and surely people of faith are called on to be as generous as we can in our response? I am thankful for everyone who quietly supports every appeal, and we are blessed with people who faithfully give of time and money to their church. Yet the bare shelves on St Mary’s foodbank recently spoke of the need for all of us to continue to be generous. If each of us has more than enough food, can we not all regularly give some of it to the foodbank ? If we did, the foodbank could be better stocked.
The community foodbank at St Benedict’s started up this week. As I have started to appeal to the community, I have been really encouraged to find local Muslims very generous in their response. I hope our churches, and others of whatever faith or no faith our communities can react with equal commitment. We pray for a time when foodbanks are obsolete , but for now, we need to step up.
If reading this makes anyone feel grumpy, imagine how grumpy one feels with a family to feed and insufficient money coming in to pay the bills and put a fair range of wholesome food on the table? If we can get into a regular habit of shopping for ourselves and at the same time for others our churches will be seen to be places of practical love. I hope we won’t respond to this appeal by judging others who are less fortunate than ourselves; let us instead respond with joy that we are in a position to help.
May we all each day pray the ‘Living God’s Love’ prayer : “ Living God, draw us deeper into your love; Jesus our Lord, send us to care and serve; Holy Spirit, make us heralds of good news. Stir us, strengthen us, teach and inspire us, to live your love with generosity and joy, imagination and courage, for the sake of your world and in the name of Jesus. Amen.
With our love and prayers , Richard and Katherine.
Firstly, may I celebrate all that was done in Holy Week and Easter, in terms of services, decorating our churches and making the grounds look so appealing. My thanks, too, for the fund-raising efforts of Gemma and Helen; I enjoyed the Egg Hunt and was glad to be able to ask one or two smaller children where to find a clue that had eluded me!
While we were away post-Easter, the news came of the death of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. A few of us from both churches gathered in St Benedict’s on Sunday evening and used one of the resources published by the Church of England. Please keep the Queen in your prayers; those who have lost a spouse will know how hard that bereavement is, and how challenging it continues to be after the first milestone of the funeral. Please continue to pray. Messages of support can be given online https://www.churchofengland.org/remembering-his-royal-highness-prince-philip.
As I write, two APCMs are coming up: St Benedict’s on 18th and St Mary’s on 25th April. I do hope we can fill all posts on the PCCs and associated positions, including that of Secretary which can only be good news for the mission and work of our churches !
We are glad to see Revd Carole Camp continues to make progress after her surgery, and I know people shall be proactive in offering help and company for short walks . Carole has said how much she has been helped by the knowledge of so much prayer and support.
Services. I hope, as part of daily prayers, we are all praying that the Prime Minister’s ‘roadmap’ continues to roll out as planned. For the time being we shall generally hold a Sunday morning service in St Benedict’s one week, and St Mary’s the next, with the host church broadcasting on Zoom. Dr Bob Day will however do an additional Morning Prayer service at St B on 25th April. Likewise, Thursday morning services and Bible study groups continue on Zoom. It is hoped to start to hold some baptisms, following morning services, after ‘Step Three’ comes into effect from May 17th, when the numbers permitted at such events rises to 30. Of course, these plans are subject to the data on the rate of infections, and we must continue to adhere closely to the hands-face-space- measures that are so vital as part of keeping one another safe.
St Benedict’s will open an informal community foodbank with effect from 25th April. Thanks are due to a number of organisations, including Herts County Council, Dunelm Mill, local shops in Bennett’s Gate, Santander and Hemel Mosque. I need a couple of ‘champions’, for example, to ensure displays of donated items are replenished, use-by dates are clearly marked in black marker pen. Will you help? The foodbank initiatives will form part of our revised ‘MAP’: the Mission Action Plan- for both churches. They are one of the ways we ‘speak’ of our faith to our community. As Jesus reminded us : “Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?….the King will say ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matt 25 vv 27, 40)
With our love and prayers Richard and Katherine.
“Tell his disciples and Peter ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will find Him, just as he told you.’“ Mark 16.7.
The disciples discovered that Jesus had triumphed over death. They were still working out what this might mean, but suddenly the story that seemed ended at Good Friday was again promising new hope. Day 3 of our daily Lent devotional from Tear Fund ‘A story to live by’ wrote about the Hebrew word ‘Teshuva’: a word that means ‘returning’: returning to the vibrant, abundant life God has made available to us.
I always notice the words ‘and Peter’. Peter had denied Jesus, disowning the one to whom he had pledged his life. Jesus knew Peter no longer felt he was worthy of the title ‘disciple’. In her excellent reflection on Tuesday in Holy Week, Revd Jos Perris dwelt on the ‘scars’ that many of us carry from the Coronavirus pandemic. Many of us have not even had time to acknowledge them, to take account of them, as we’ve just trudged on and striven to ‘keep going’. Peter was trudging on, returning to what he knew: fishing (john 21.3). Yet Jesus sought him out, in Galilee, and restored him to ‘teshuva’: a renewed relationship of service to the Lord.
I hope we too can sense the call, as we emerge bit by bit from lockdown, to serve others in Jesus’ name. We carry the scars of our experience, loneliness, loss, perhaps weariness with the relentlessness of lockdown in the dark winter. Some may feel their faith has grown a bit faint. Yet Easter is about resurrection: about new life after death. Can we ‘return’ to serving God and others, renewed by a sense that we are following Jesus afresh?
Katherine and I recently made a donation to a vaccine charity in thanksgiving for our precious jabs, the fruits of painstaking and ingenious work by scientists. You may recall that in newsletter no. 35, I set out several of the opportunities to donate publicized by Bishop Alan. Please as you read this, I hope you, too, have made your donation to one of the charities suggested? It’s not every day that we can be part of giving life to others; every gift to vaccine charities means we can help save someone we may never meet from severe illness and death through Covid.
I believe that we can gain fresh hope and purpose by generous acts and committed service to Christ. It may be by supporting vaccine and mission charities, helping our churches by filling vacant roles, re-committing to spiritual food through regular attendance (on line or in person-) at worship, prayer and Bible study groups, and assisting outreach activities to the community. In such ways we can rediscover our faith as ‘a story to live by’. Easter declares that, even if we feel a bit distant and dented, (as Peter certainly did), God wants to give us, too, resurrected hope. The scars of the past need not limit our future, if we throw our lot in with Jesus Christ.
With our love and prayers for this new year, Richard and Katherine.