Author Archives: Rachel Feltham

Trinity 3 – June 20th Year B – Rev Alison Way

2 Corinthians  6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

Video Reflection available here:

We are going to listen to a hymn first – Will your anchor hold? The sentiments of the hymn we have just heard sung Will your anchor hold – play to the themes I am going to talk about today. It is a big favourite of mine though not very Anglican!! I only came across it during my training for the ministry in Wales and it is I believe regularly sung by the boy’s brigade. It is a great one for a crowd singing enthusiastically as this is not the kind of hymn to sing quietly – but with gusto and passion!!

This hymn points us to the bigger picture, the context of our lives in the storms of life, and the reality that in Jesus we have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure as the billows roll. Fastened to the rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love. And it is living in stormy times that I am going to talk about today. Sometimes in life there is a clear path and an obvious objective to aim for. Things seem certain, well ordered, and inspiring. Basically, all is well with our world. At other times, it seems like life is very confused and messy and difficult, with meaningless running round in circles, lots of frustrations, pain and more questions than answers. We have had a lot of this in recent times!!!

For me, the gospel reading we heard earlier, speaks into the messy confused and difficult side of all our lives with its tales of storms and the fishermen disciples. In the face of the storm, the disciples were not at all sure what to do, suddenly very fearful and at sixes and sevens….. Literally they move from relative calm to a great commotion and much as we might wish it to be otherwise, the truth is that we all have stormy times,  messy confusing times like this, which come on us without any warning! Sometimes caused by something trivial and short lived and at other times caused by events that feel like our whole world has fallen apart. Today I want us to think more deeply about this story of the disciples in the storm in the context of that storminess and messiness in our lives, and see what we can learn from it.

The storms on the Sea of Galilee were well known to the fishermen.  The fishermen that Jesus had chosen to be his disciples. These storms were an unwanted and scary part of life, infamous rather than famous. No doubt the disciples knew of other fishermen or even members of their own families who had lost their lives through one of these storms. We may well find this a bit surprising as the sea of Galilee is a big lake – but it is the truth… Something about the surrounding lands and the prevalence of high wind. Within Hebrew culture, there was also an endemic fear of water. No coincidence that the Old Testament is packed with sea monsters – Leviathans….. in case you have ever wondered. Like modern day workers in the fishing industry the disciples would have had a very healthy respect for the waters they worked. They worked long before there was any real prospect of being rescued, before life jackets, life rafts and air sea rescue!!

I think to understand this story of the disciples in the storm at a deeper level – we need to apply this idea of storms more widely. Rather than just limit it to the power of the weather. At the lowest level, Storms are scary, at times life threatening, bringing chaos and destruction in their wake and a real loss of order. We have many circumstances in our lives that fit this description, not just adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, but also bereavement, redundancy, illnesses and chronic debilitating conditions, and dare I say it pandemics etc!!! Difficulties in relationships and families are all really types of storms, if you think about what they do – they are scary, bring chaos, destruction, loss of order, and life feels like it is not worth living. These modern day storms can shake us to the core just as the original storm shook the disciples.

In the year 2000 – I was suddenly made redundant from the Software Company where I had worked for over 9 years. Clouds had been gathering round this organisation for some time and redundancy had been threatened a couple of times previously, as the firm organised and re-organised but continued to lose money. When it came in the end, it came very suddenly and very decisively as the firm was engulfed by another organisation. I fell out of favour with those that then wielded the power and that was that!

It felt like the definition and purpose of my day to day existence had vanished overnight. I was put on ‘gardening’ leave, so I did not do any more work but could not start another job until that was finished (though job-hunting was permitted obviously). I discovered pretty rapidly that in the week, I didn’t have a reason to get up in the morning or to do anything very much at all. Life lost its shape and coherency. I went from being enormously busy all the time, to not having enough to do!! I also learnt pretty graphically who were really my friends. Those who rang and came round, and provided moral support. I found out the hard way those who found excuses for not trying to help or even be in touch, justifying this by saying they didn’t know what to say in the circumstances. I discovered how much we define ourselves by what we do rather than who we are as God’s beloved children too.

But alongside all this, I found that I had more time to read, to pray and to walk my route of Christian discipleship, I found very great consolation in my life in the church which was one of the few things that stayed the same. Sundays provided a great anchor point and refreshment. I established a pattern over what turned out to be just a 10-week period when I wasn’t employed. Thankfully that set me spiritually into such a better place, and this continued after I got another job. It was a place and a pattern where God got much more of a look in. I am sure that this experience helped me to follow my calling which I was exploring at the time, and I started to train for the ministry about 2 years after this

Even though it was very grim at times, I was very aware of Jesus in the boat in the storm of my redundancy!!! Through the power of the Spirit I was never alone. Jesus was in the storm with the disciples, and I find that very consoling.  Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus left with us, we are never alone, even in the most difficult and stormiest of times. As fellow Christians on the journey of life, we should not be surprised by what I have just said about the Holy Spirit being with us and working in us even in the most difficult times. And yet that is not what the world at large might expect us to say!!

When I first became a Christian back in the day, there was a sense that you became a Christian and everything was going to be alright. It was the easy option, possibly even a bit of a cop out. It was a meal ticket to happiness, or at least that was how it was portrayed. Everything in the garden was going to be rosy! Difficult times were to be a thing of the past. I am not sure how well we have changed that wider perception, but I do think it is changing. Christianity isn’t a meal ticket to happiness, or a guarantee for no difficult times and as our first reading showed us with the struggles of St Paul it certainly isn’t the easy option!

The wonderful things about being a Christian include massive, undeserved forgiveness for sins; God’s peace and spirit being with us, deep joy and the freedom we experience in worship; the opportunity to know Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit that is with us in every breath! and of course, the hope of eternal life which gives greater meaning in everything. I realise now for example, I would much rather have my sins   forgiven, than be happy all the time. Likewise, I would much rather experience God’s presence through the spirit and the inner peace that brings than be happy all the time.

I think it is much more honest to admit that some very bad things happen to good people. Some sad awful and heart-rending things happen to people. Things they have not done anything to deserve. Through it all God is still with them and loves them as they are through the power of his Spirit. God still wants to use them to further his kingdom, but these awful storms happen. Yet sometimes in our brokenness, in the stormiest of times, the spirit is given more room to work in us and this will set us free!

The disciples learnt from the storm experience and had one of the most impressive demonstrations of Jesus’ love for them, as he rapidly stilled the storm and restored peace and calm. They went away from this incident – aware in a new way of who Jesus was and how he worked. I have also known God work through the storms in my life too, particularly through the times round my redundancy I can see how God was with me and I was changed by the power of the spirit working in my life. Also, how God worked in a new and deeper way. A way that in the usual busyness of my existence I might never have given the Spirit the space to dwell so richly. It is easy to look back and see the work being done in stormy times by the spirit from a safe distance and to be thankful. It is not so easy in the midst of stormy times – when it is a struggle to get up in the morning. It is at these times, when all we can do is ask the Spirit to dwell in us richly and to get us through the day. To be honest in our prayers about how we feel and to be reassured that as Jesus was in the storm with his disciples, the Holy Spirit is with us and surrounds us with God’s love in everything no matter how bleak it may seem.

As I started, I end by saying that life can be frustrating, messy and confusing, as we all experience good times and stormy bad times. Storms (both literal and the stormy nature of our modern lives) can shake our very foundations,  but above all we need to remember the Holy Spirit is always with us in everything, as Jesus was with the disciples in the storm. Because as the chorus of that hymn goes: We have an anchor that keeps the soul, Steadfast and sure while the billows roll, Fastened to the Rock which cannot move, Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love. AMEN.

CCLI – Song  reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton, Some material included in this service is copyright:  ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020 – Bible readings from The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 – CCLI – Hymns reproduced under CCLI 1618191 for St Michael’s Church, Pen Selwood

Trinity 2 – June 13th – Penny Ashton

Reflection for St Barnabas

Acts 11: 19-end

As we are thinking about St Barnabas today, we will be going on a little bit of a Cook’s tour of the first few chapters of the book of Acts.  It is often useful to read the bible, not in sections as we hear it every week in church, but to read a larger portion to see the whole sweep of the story.  In the case of the early church and its development, I would recommend reading from the beginning of Acts up to the first few verses of chapter 13 to get a good overview of how the Holy Spirit worked through different people over time to spread the word of God’s kingdom.  We often take the example of the very earliest church in Jerusalem as a model of how a church could or should organise itself.  According to the description in Acts 4, it seemed to function almost as a commune, and members were willing where necessary to sell personal belongings to finance the church and support the less well off.  We might do well to also consider the church in Antioch, and we will come to that later.  Antioch, which is now in Turkey, although it was then in the Roman province of Syria plays a key part in this story.  It was a relatively new city having been founded about 300 years previously by a former general of Alexander the Great.  It was well situated on a crossroads for international trade, and being near the mouth of a river, was also a seaport, almost certainly a meeting place for people of many races.  It had become the third largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome and Alexandria, was the garrison for Roman troops defending the eastern border of the empire, and had many theatres, temples aqueducts and baths.  We know from our bibles that it was the first place where  the term ‘Christians’ was used.

Barnabas did not come from Antioch – in fact Barnabas was not even his real name, but a nickname given to him which describes his nature, and although he is not remembered as a leader of the early church, his importance should not be underestimated.  We first read about him in Acts 4 in the account of the communal living in the Jerusalem church, under his given name of Joseph.  We know that he came from Cyprus, was a Jew of the tribe of Levi which historically had no land allocation but served in various roles in the temple – anything from cleaners to musicians to guards.  In our first encounter with him he is being generous, having sold some land and giving the money to the apostles.  We are also told at this time of his nickname which means son of encouragement.  He was already trustworthy and well liked.

Some time later we have the stories of the spread of the church, but up to this point always among the Jewish people.  After the death of Stephen, a persecution begins, and people begin to scatter – and word comes to the Jerusalem church that the gospel is being preached to Samaritans.  You will remember how in Acts 1: 8, Jesus gave the instruction to the apostles that after they had received the Holy Spirit, they would take the word to Jerusalem, all Judea, and the third place on the list was Samaria.  Peter and John went in person to check out this new church, which must have been difficult for them given the relationship between the Jews and Samaritans at the time, but they obviously approved as they continued to preach to Samaritan villages themselves on their way back to Jerusalem.

If we read further in Acts, we learn in chapter 9 that after his conversion, Saul began to preach in Damascus and so enraged the Jewish authorities there that he had to be smuggled out at night by the church.  He returned to Jerusalem, but the church there – perhaps understandably did not want to know him.  To be fair, the last time they had seen him, he was supporting those who killed one of their number, and then obtaining permission to do the same in Damascus.  It seems though that Barnabas was not one to jump to conclusions, and he took the time and had the courage to sit with Saul and hear his story – and then to tell it to the church himself.  After that Saul was made welcome – Barnabas was the kind of person who would take time to find out the whole story, and that you would believe.

In chapter 9 of Acts there is then a description of the church which I love – ‘Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31).  It almost sounds as though God has given them a time when they can heave a sigh of relief before the action starts again!  The work of the Spirit continues though in Acts 10 and the early verses of chapter 11 when Peter is challenged in a vision about preaching to gentiles, and this thread of the story continues in the reading which we have just heard.  Word has come to Jerusalem that the gospel is being preached to Hellenists – that is to Greeks and possibly in that cosmopolitan city to other races as well.  The key phrase to note about this is in v21 – ‘The hand of the Lord was with them’.  This spread of the gospel outside of the Jewish people follows the vision of Peter where he had been reminded that only God can decide what is clean and what is unclean.  Surely the Spirit is preparing the church for the next step.

We often talk nowadays about a person newly appointed to a position being ‘a safe pair of hands.’  This seems to very much sum up Barnabas.  And so it was that when they heard of the church in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to find out the truth, and what he found is summed up beautifully in today’s reading: ‘When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord.’

It seems that Barnabas chose to remain in Antioch, we don’t know the timescales here, but while he was there, he made the journey to Tarsus, about 85 miles away, where Saul had returned home, and made a point of finding him and bringing him back to Antioch, where they both joined the team of leaders of that vibrant and growing church.  Once again, the guiding hand of the Spirit can be seen at work, as it was from this church, after a time of worship, prayer and fasting the Holy Spirit guided the church to commission Saul and Barnabas for a specific work, and so after blessing them, the church sent them out.  The rest, you could say is history!

Throughout this story, certain threads are clear. People were spending time in prayer and listening to God.  Barnabas, on whom we have focused today was ‘full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ and so the church and God could use him. He took time to listen, to think and pray about things and was brave.  I often think that the two people in the book of Acts to whom we owe a great deal for their courage are Barnabas and an almost unknown believer in Damascus called Ananias whom God sent to pray with Saul after he was blinded by his vision on the road.  Ananias was not keen to go, having heard in advance of Saul’s mission, but he was obedient, and because of his and Barnabas’ faithfulness, the whole amazing mission of St Paul was made possible.

I am often reminded of the story of a revivalist preacher in the 1930s called Mordecai Ham.  He preached at a meeting in South Carolina which did not seem to be very successful, but one person who made a decision at this meeting was a teenager from a devout church-going family who lived on a local farm.  The boy’s name was Billy Graham and he probably preached the gospel to almost as many as St Paul.  I always have to remind myself when I have the privilege of standing at the front of church to preach, that we have no idea what work the Holy Spirit may be planning for the people who are listening.  Whatever those plans are, they will almost certainly rely upon us having people like Barnabas to help us carry them out.

Trinity 1 – Year B – 6th June 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Link to the video reflection for this sermon:

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, and Mark 3:20-35

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In our gospel we are in the early days of Jesus ministry. It’s a confusing passage as there is a lot going on. In the action that proceeds this passage, Jesus has just gathered and named his disciples, and has already got the hackles up of the Pharisees and Herodians through his actions – He is the centre of attention and packed crowds are following him around, and in this passage are outside his home.

Jesus’ family appear to be struggling with this sudden and rapid chain of events, and had already set out to restrain him (In response to people saying ‘he has gone out of his mind’). In and around his hometown and his home, this change in Jesus must have been quite startling. I am also guessing the family had gone out to restrain Jesus before he got home. They re-appear later in the account and will have found the huge densely packed crowd now outside their house when they do! More of that later…

More surprisingly at one level, Jesus’ activities have come to the attention of the Scribes from Jerusalem, so they are there too. They have travelled especially to denounce him.  The fact they have come to him is interesting, and these learned leaders coming to him in a way gives him credibility. They must have viewed him as a significant threat to their powerbase to have taken the trouble. On arrival, the scribes are not in the mood for talking or listening to what Jesus has to say – they straight away get on with condemning his actions without a hearing. According to them – Jesus is possessed and using the power of the ruler of demons to do the healings and miracles he has been working. The language of demons and Beelzebul is not language we often use today.

Jesus responds by giving them very short shrift. How can the forces of evil have any influence over the forces of evil…. And he then talks about the importance of standing together. He says the same thing – using kingdom and house – if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom will not be able to stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. This is stressing the importance of unity and working together at all levels in our homes and in God’s kingdom. The kind of kingdom of love Jesus is bringing and the kind of home of grace and welcome he is building in us. There is also some deep seated irony in countering what the Scribes said too. Instead of working for Satan he has come to overpower and overcome Satan once and for all.

He uses a short story here to make his point. It revolves around advice on how to undertake a successful robbery (which is a very unusual topic for Jesus to use). The story describes tying up the strong man so his house can be plundered. There are a number of ways we could interpret this for example

  • Is Jesus the one coming to tie up Satan and defeat him with his message of love, hope and peace once and for all?

  • Or maybe Jesus is the one who has come to tie up the strong men of his day – the religious leaders who are leading the people badly and astray. They have been diverting people via meticulous rules and regulations rather than faith being a matter of the heart and love for God.

  • Or even is this showing the house of God needs to be radically reformed and plundered, to get back to where it should be and that is what Jesus has come to do at this point. We can think of references to strength and weakness and how they work in Jesus from other places in the New Testament- for example in 1 Corinthians 1:27 – But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

Jesus then saves his most damming remark for the Scribes and what they said. He says ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven’. Those who opposed Jesus were saying that his power came from the chief demonic power, Beelzebul and Jesus takes this very seriously. It is this statement that the power of the Holy Spirit is a demonic power, which he identifies as a blasphemy. The radical change and healing God brings through Jesus never have as their purpose to destroy or tear down; they are always for building up and wholeness and for our good.

The premise of standing together in the kingdom and in each home and household is important. It is important we work together for God’s kingdom as we move forward in this next period and being drawn together to build God’s kingdom where we are. Standing together, and supporting each other are central in this. Standing together with kingdom values and aspirations at the centre of our endeavours is also key.

Circumstances are such that we will need to work out not only what we do to move forward but how we do it in our new reality – utilising the gifts and talents of all of us to make it happen. To do this well and bring glory to God is going to take some time. Working together well isn’t a nice to have  but an absolute essential in this endeavour, and not getting caught up in what divides us rather than what unites us.

Added into this is a level of ‘unknowns’ about how things are going to go in relation to Coronavirus and the lifting of restrictions, and moving forward positively. Certainty about anything is in rather short supply, at the moment. This all feels provisional and temporary in a way I never imagined we would still be experiencing at this point, and yet I can see this is going to continue for much longer than any of us want.

Based on how it has all been up to this point – I also know this is going to be tricky – but we need to work at it together. Patience is important as is being kind and listening carefully, accepting where we make mistakes and learning from them.

The kind of unity Jesus is looking for in his followers is that of family –  a community working together interdependently and based on love and the common good. Towards the end of this passage Jesus declares to the gathered masses that are all around him who do the will of God are members of his family.

It is a bit tempting to see what Jesus says here as a slur on his own family, who at this point are quite frankly and understandably not really getting what he is doing and why – but that isn’t the point Jesus is making at all. His own family trigger his use of this example and he is not advocating hostility towards them but moving to a wider definition of family – his family of followers.

Family was in fact a very important and valued unit in Jesus’ life, and his faith. Loyalty, respect and obedience were hallmarks of Jewish family life. What he is saying is about the closeness we need to aspire to in belonging and working together to do the will of God. And the closeness he wants in his followers – so that we are loving and supportive of one another – and the best worldly example he can see in that is family. In our case our church families.

I don’t want to finish without referring to some wisdom given to us by Paul in our first reading from 2 Corinthians. He reminds us that Jesus came to bring us into his presence by grace – continuing ‘so we do not lose heart’.  We need to stay focussed on the certainties of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit in these strange and unpredictable times. Particularly as we work out how we move forward serving God as his body the church in our communities. We as Paul recommended, need to see beyond our earthly issues, to seeing we have an eternal dwelling place in the loving heart of God. And an understanding as Paul so mystically put it that one day we will experience the eternal weight of glory beyond measure.

Paul is saying this ‘even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day’. Let’s concentrate on that inner renewing and let the outer things that are wasting away take care of themselves. When we can, and when we have worked through whatever steps/guidance comes next and the dust has settled, let’s keep on working on that critical inner renewing as we move into the next phase of all this – whatever that may be. On a personal note, I am having a few days away and then some retreat time over the next 10 days, I would be particularly grateful for your prayers for that retreat time and for inner renewing as we prepare for the next steps.

When I was a curate – I met a lovely man called Ken, sadly he is now no longer with us. His first sea-going draft was on HMS Royal Oak. At the age of 16 as a ‘Boy 1st Class’ he was the youngest member of the ship’s company to survive a torpedo attack while at anchor in Scapa Flow. 834 lives were lost, only 386 survived. When I met him, he was an elderly man of deep faith. He was the secretary of the Royal Oak association and still making the annual pilgrimage to Orkney to remember his ship mates, his extended family. Ken introduced me to a prayer written by William Penn, which he loved and points to the deeper perspective we need. Subsequently I have used it many times (particularly at funerals) – but it sums up something of what I have been trying to say today:

Let us pray –  life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. Lift us up, strong Son of God that we may see further; cleanse our eyes that we may see more clearly; draw us closer to Thyself and while Thou dost prepare a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, that where Thou art we may be also for evermore. AMEN


New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989

Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday

Romans 8: 12-17 and John 3: 1-17

Both the industries that I worked in before I retired were subject to regular inspections – in the bank we had inspectors who would descend without notice – carefully timing it so that they arrived just as we were about to close the doors to the public, and they would then stand behind each cashier as they balanced their till.  In Adult Learning we were subject to Ofsted inspections – and with them you could receive advance warning that they were coming, although not always.  In both cases, the inspectors were people who had done the jobs they were inspecting, and knew how it should be done, and all the tricks people might try to hide things that were not quite right.

Nicodemus is a good church person, he knows how things ought to be done according to the law.  We are not told, and have no way of finding out why he came to talk with Jesus – or why he came by night.  There are lots of possible reasons and we have considered several of them at various times.   As a member of the ruling body of the temple in Jerusalem, he could almost have been sent to check that Jesus is doing things properly.  We often meet Jesus talking with church leaders – they know the proper way to do things.  Even the disciples at times try to put Jesus straight, and we read that Peter is caught out in the days of the early church trying to return to doing things ‘properly’ rather than being guided by the spirit.

Despite his very courteous opening of the discussion, Jesus tells Nicodemus from the outset that he has no way of knowing what God is like – God doesn’t fit into a proper procedure.  Nicodemus has started the conversation with a compliment, ‘Nobody could do the things that you do unless God was with him’ which Jesus throws straight back at him – effectively saying ‘how would you know that?  Only people who have been born again can know about God’.  Sadly, in recent years, the description ‘born again Christian’ has become somewhat debased currency.  We associate it with people who shout long sermons at Speakers Corner, or go from door to door with tracts asking people if they have been saved.  And yet the need to be born again came straight from Jesus, and if we are ever tempted to say that the description ‘born again Christian’ does not apply to us, then we need to come back to this passage in John 3 and remember what Jesus said.

At a recent PCC meeting, Alison asked us all what we were most hoping for, for the future.  There was a variety of answers, but the one that most people agreed on was that they wanted things to return to normal.  I am sure that every one of us had a different picture in our heads of what normal looked like, but even so, I don’t think that is going to happen.

I believe that just as He was when Jesus came to earth, God is doing a new thing with us now.  I wish I could give you some idea what that was, but I have no more knowledge than you – it will be something exciting and maybe scary at times.  I believe that things here will be changing and our faith may be tested.  I don’t know how yet, and it may be uncomfortable.  As the Queen said in a recent broadcast, has been a bumpy ride for some of us – and there may be more bumps to come but God is still in charge.

I was recently reminded that you cannot have a flower without the bud breaking, a chick cannot hatch without smashing through its comfortable and protective shell, and I was told that unless a butterfly or moth has to struggle to escape the chrysalis, it won’t be able to fly.  As the old saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.  The past year has put stresses on members of our clergy that they were not trained to cope with.  Asked them time after time to complete tasks that have never been on the theological college curriculum.  I doubt if you will ever hear a would-be ordinand telling a selection conference that they feel convinced that God is calling them, to use their skills in risk assessment and making the best use of Zoom.  I don’t know what Alison was asked about when she was interviewed before coming here, but I doubt very much if it was about her experience in infection control and video editing.  I wonder if Jesus considered assessing the risk before riding into Jerusalem?  I should say at this point that I do see the wisdom in assessing the risks at a time like this has been.

Nicodemus could have been checking that Jesus is doing his signs in accordance to the approved guidelines of the Temple authorities, and it is no wonder that he finds it hard to understand what Jesus tells him, because Jesus has come to teach that God is doing a new thing and if we in Wincanton and Pen Selwood go back to doing what we have always done, I would venture to suggest that it will have the same effect on the town and village that it has always had.

The story of Nicodemus is one that John uses to get over some important truths to us as well as to the Jewish authorities.  Throughout the conversation, Jesus is gently playing with words that can be understood more than one way – he talks of being born ‘again’, or equally ‘from above’ and in the next verse talks about the effect of the wind or spirit – in both cases the words are interchangeable.  Just as we can see and feel the effect of the wind, so too we can see the work of the Holy Spirit, and the only clue we get about the future is that the Spirit goes where it wills, and we will see the effects.

I once promised some of you that although I could not promise never to quote C S Lewis in a sermon, I was unlikely to quote from a book about Narnia, but I am going to break that promise now.  In ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’ there is an occasion when Aslan plays with Susan and Lucy.  Speaking of this time of play Lucy later says she can never make up her mind whether it was more like playing with a kitten or a thunderstorm.  Perhaps that is what life would be like if we allowed the Spirit to blow where she wills.  Up until now, our tactics have been to meet inside these four walls, and hope that invitations and the occasional special service will encourage people to join us.  Lots of people have been here on special occasions: – at Christmas, Remembrance and Harvest, and especially for school services and baptisms, but very few of them seem to have found anything that seems to inspire them to come again.  Could it be that we are hiding God in a building?  I have often thought that we are good at getting caught in in-between spaces – I think the fashionable word at the moment is liminal space.  Could we be stuck between Ascension and Pentecost?  That we have seen Jesus return to his father, but have not yet fully embraced the inspiration and power of the Spirit?  We read last week what the effect of that was on the apostles! At the end of the recorded version of last Sunday’s worship, Alison used the words of Commitment for Pentecost – several questions which each begin with the words ‘Will you dare…’ and to each the response is ‘We will’.  I do recommend that you look at this if you have not seen it, and look at it again if you have.  Within this section of the service are the words ‘Today we have remembered the coming of God’s power on the disciples and we invite that same Spirit to drive us out into the wild places of the world.’  You could say that the strength of the wind last Sunday turned Pen Selwood itself into one of the wild places of the world, but on a more serious note, I wonder how keen any of us really is to go into wild and possibly dangerous places trusting in the Spirit’s protection.  I wonder if we have become too comfortable where we are?

We do know that Nicodemus did not go away disappointed by his conversation with Jesus, because he occurs again by name in the Gospels when as a friend of Joseph of Arimathea, he goes with him to request permission to bury Jesus body after his crucifixion.  That was venturing into a wild and dangerous place, and would have set him against both the Roman and the Temple authorities.  Perhaps one reason he had the courage to do this was because he was one of the first people to hear Jesus summing up of God’s amazing plan for the redemption of the world in verse 16 – surely one of the best-known verses in the whole of the Bible.  We also, perhaps, have a clue as to why the story of his talk with Jesus occurs at night.  When Nicodemus came to Jesus he was in the dark, but surely he left in the light.  We have the privilege of meeting with Jesus too – do we dare to take his light with us when we leave?

Link to Sunday’s video reflection is:

Pentecost – Rev Alison Way – 23rd May 2021

Link to the video reflection:

Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

In the name of the living God, Almighty Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen

What happened on the day of Pentecost sounds pretty staggering as well as spectacular, and we have to wonder what it was like to have been there. For the disciples and the crowd gathered inside that day – (it had been about 120 people earlier in the week), a stunning experience and a spiritual awakening through the noise like the rush of the violent wind and with the tongues of fire resting on each one of them. And then suddenly the ability to speak in other languages as the same Spirit gave them the ability. There are things we don’t know about this – did the Spirit give them the words and the understanding of what they were saying. Or were they saying things without knowing what they were saying? It could well have been the latter as it was more important that the people around them heard the message in their native language and could act on it, than they understood themselves what they were saying. We will never know for sure.

I have always been very impressed with linguistic ability in others. This is definitely not one of my best gifts. I do have an O-level in French, but I was much better at reading and comprehension than speaking. (In fact I remember my French teacher being very frustrated with my spoken French with a pronounced south London accent!) I have been particularly impressed with people who can translate readily from one language to another, and particularly when the going gets technical. I remember on a work visit to Evreux in  France looking at different models of ministry, when I was working in Salisbury Diocese. Over one of the meals I had quite a complicated discussion about my calling as a priest with a devout Roman Catholic nun (I was the first female priest she had ever encountered). All our interactions were translated by the then Archdeacon of Sherborne, who spoke French very fluently! It wasn’t quick but it was very profound!

Being able to hear the message in their own language caused quite a stir in multicultural Jerusalem and by the end of the day (though the extract from Acts we heard didn’t get that far) 3000 people were baptised… That’s 25 people for each person originally gathered if there were 120 people but it could be there were far less than that in the room at the start of the day! – whatever all that was going on here was really quite impressive! Imagine if we spoke and 25 people turned to Christ if it helps!

The gathered crowd who heard the talking said they were talking about God’s deeds of power. Though not everyone gathered were caught up in this (accusing them of being filled with wine!), it is still a huge number who were inspired to become followers of Jesus. I have never known drink to improve people’s linguistic abilities and it was also as we hear from Peter a little further on in this reading – much to early in the day!

Over these past months in lockdown and gently moving out of it, we have been hearing about God’s deeds of power worked through the life and times of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  From Jesus birth, through his life with healings, miracles and teaching, to as we drew closer to Easter, his death and then rising again. Changing the world, once and for all and forever as I often say, conquering death – and opening the way for the coming of the Spirit in power. Our gospel reading also touched on how it had to be this way – Jesus saying ‘If I do not go away – the Advocate (Another word for the Holy Spirit) will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you’.

The Holy Spirit is how we connect and know God’s love for us in Jesus. It is the sense we have of God’s presence with us and one of the ways we are guided in the chances and choices of life, alongside exploring the scripture, handed down tradition, wise counsel and our sense of calling. In this week when we are giving thanks for the work of the Spirit in us and the work of our churches through our annual meetings, it is right to pray for the Spirit to fill us afresh for the challenges ahead of us. The knowns and the unknowns of opening out as the time comes. For some this will be too quick, for others too slow – whatever we will maintain our safety first approach and move forward at a pace where we can do the necessary safely. We will definitely need the Spirit’s guidance and no doubt do quite a lot of work too – to make this possible.

There are a set of prayers which encompass how the Spirit works   – where we pray for the different aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work in us. If you are watching this on the video, I pray the prayers after this reflection and I will also include the text of them on the Pentecost post on the Wincanton parish church website. The aspects are: –

  • The strength of the Holy Spirit in our service of God.

  • The wisdom of the Holy Spirit to understand God’s will for us.

  • The peace of the Holy Spirit for confidence to follow our calling.

  • The healing of the Holy Spirit where we need it to bring reconciliation and wholeness.

  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit to equip us for the work we have ahead.

  • And the fruit of the Holy Spirit, so that God’s love is what people see in us.

I have been particularly focussing on praying for the Spiritual fruit of joy and patience in recent weeks to help us in these strange times in which we live. The Holy Spirit is with us as our breath too. At the end of John’s gospel it says – Jesus breathed on them and said – Receive the Holy Spirit.

One of the techniques in today’s world of mindfulness is to tune in on our breathing and reconnect with it or take time to breathe in and out deeply. The centering strength of this is something Christians have known for many centuries. And I will always recommend it as a simple and effective way to reconnect, and move us into a more reflective and open space in the way God would have us travel.

To finish I do think we need to concentrate on being open to the Spirit’s stirrings and for our Spiritual fruit to be uppermost. This will help our message of love for everyone to be what people see in us. so let’s particularly focus

  • on the strength the Spirit can bring,

  • the healing the Spirit can work in us,

  • the gifts we need from the Spirit to face the challenges ahead,

  • the fruit with which we can be blessed,

  • and knowing God through the Spirit in every breath.


We pray for God to fill us with his Spirit. Generous God,  we thank you for the power of your Holy Spirit. We ask that we may be strengthened to serve you better. Lord, come to bless us.
All: and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the wisdom of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to make us wise to understand your will. Lord, come to bless us.
All: and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the peace of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to keep us confident of your love, wherever you call us.Lord, come to bless us.
All: and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the healing of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to bring reconciliation and wholeness where there is division, sickness and sorrow. Lord, come to bless us.
All: and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the gifts of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to equip us for the work which you have given us.
Lord, come to bless us.
All: and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the fruit of your Holy Spirit. We ask you to reveal in our lives the love of Jesus. Lord, come to bless us.
All: and fill us with your Spirit.

We thank you for the breath of your Holy Spirit, given by the risen Lord. We ask you to keep the whole Church, living and departed, in the joy of eternal life. Lord, come to bless us.
All: and fill us with your Spirit.

Generous God, you sent your Holy Spirit upon your Messiah at the River Jordan, and upon the disciples in the upper room. In your mercy fill us with your Spirit. hear our prayer, and make us one in heart and mind to serve you with joy for ever.  Amen.


Copyright acknowledgement – Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020, New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989

Easter 7 Rev Alison Way May 16th 2021

The link to the reflection video is:

Acts 1:15-17, 21-end, John 17:6-19

In the name of the living God, Heavenly Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit.

We tune into the disciples this morning in the between times – Jesus has ascended back to the Father, and they are awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on the day of Pentecost. They have gathered together and devoted themselves to prayer, and this is the basis of setting aside the 10 days between Ascension and Pentecost as a special time of prayer –  the modern ‘Thy Kingdom come’ initiative, which we may have heard of mirrors this approach.

The disciples and Jesus followers took time out to pray with the final words of Jesus ringing in their ears – where he said as he ascended. But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They gathered to pray and through the next 10 days – they prayed frequently.

I can’t speak for all of us but I am not sure my first instinct is always as spot on as this…. None of our more worldly responses to a lull in the action, will get us as far as praying does. Those worldly responses might well include:-

  • Have a good panic!

  • Letting anxiety get the better of us

  • Or wallowing in some guilt about something we have not done (or not done as well as we wanted)

  • Another favourite in a lull is ‘ostrich behaviour’ putting our heads in the sand and trying to ignore the present reality (or elephant in the room!)

Praying and praying frequently needs to be high up on the agenda of our hearts and lives…. The life of discipleship is about developing first rather than last instinct prayerfulness! The example of the disciples, the women and Jesus family is definitely an example of first instinct prayerfulness. It said in our reading the crowd gathered for prayer was around 120! Something exciting is coming – what shall we do – their answer and ours should be PRAY and rest in God’s presence.

So, the first and repeated thing the disciples did after the ascension of Jesus was pray. No doubt first instinct prayerfulness is the way to go for us too!  There are lots of things to pray about at the moment. In a way I hope we are on the cusp of more exciting times as well, which in the same way as it did for the disciples, makes the prayer all the more important.

  • We need to pray for wisdom in all those leading our country for the changes ahead and how organisations will implement them wisely.

  • We need to pray for the team who develop the Government guidelines for places of worship to fit how the Church works.

  • We need to pray for all people all impacted by recent times in different ways – from those who are ready to go and get on with it – to those who for good reason have hardly left their houses for 16 months

  • We also need to pray for our world particularly for the covax scheme and for an equitable distribution of vaccines, and for those countries at the moment experiencing peaks, huge difficulties and death rates. As a world living so closely inter-related with one another, we need a global solution moving forward.

  • We also need to pray for this town that we serve, and our fellowship how we respond and build up our worshipping life together.

During the pandemic days I have been working primarily with small working groups in both churches, individuals to whom we owe a huge debt. We have worked with the PCCs as best as we have been able to and we have been unable to use the volunteers for various things we would usually do for a selection of good reasons. As we open out, I very much hope we will be able to share the load more widely once again. Naturally, as we approach our annual meetings – this is also a time for some responsibilities to shift and new members of the teams to emerge. Please pray we find a way through this with a full team in place

The Church is designed to be a team effort not the endeavours of a few. Stopping sharing the load more widely – is very much against the grain for me, and is what church should be about. This was forced upon us by the circumstances we found ourselves in. It is absolutely not my usual starting point, which is much more biblical. We remember that in the 1st Letter of Corinthians – St Paul uses the parts of the body to describe this. So that the church as a whole is the body of Christ – with each member representing a different part we need.  This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:14-20

14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.

Paul goes on to address that he needs everyone from the weakest to the strongest and that all have something important and unique to contribute. That was true then and just as it is so very true now.

Returning to Peter and the apostles in Acts into this period of praying, they had a meeting and Peter addressed all the gathered believers about filling the gap in the team left by Judas. There is no question in his mind that the gap needed to be filled and this represents an understanding of our approach needing to fill the gaps in our team moving forward. Pray please for our annual meetings in the days ahead –which is fulfilling this same purpose.

Moving on to our gospel reading – this is amongst the last words Jesus said to his disciples at the last supper. Judas has already left the room and he is trying to prepare them for the days ahead. I have little doubt the original hearers would have not completely understood what Jesus was getting at in the moment, but subsequently remembered his words and been empowered by them.

Jesus is praying in this reading and in a way in this prayer, Jesus summarizes the message of the whole Gospel: Which is that what Jesus has received from his Father, he has given to his friends (ie us). And as Jesus entrusts the disciples and therefore us to the Father’s care, he reminds them and us that he has sent us all into the world, as the Father sent him. Effectively all of this has a purpose that as Jesus friends we should share his message whenever, wherever or however we can.

One verse within it really struck me and it is Jesus saying and praying the words – 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I was very concerned when we began to worship again last summer. How this was going to be with all the restrictions and having to do so many thing so differently and omit things I didn’t want to omit! Also knowing that some could come and some could not or should not. Therefore also not being able to give the welcome and fellowship readily we have hitherto taken for granted. Yet God was still in the heart of what we were able to do, and his presence with us has been tangible. It has been different obviously, yet God has been with us in it all –  very much so – over and against and through any misgivings I may have had!

As a church we are first and foremost in the loving business – to love God and reach out with that love to others. Moments of joy – which is a fruit of the Spirit have still enriched our walk with God in these days. Joy is a funny and surprising commodity – we can be joyful (and yet still very sad). We can be joyful with the tears streaming or with love and laughter abounding or all of the above. Our final need for prayer today is to pray for the spiritual fruit of joyfulness in ourselves and those around us.

In a way the pandemic has taught us to be more thankful and joyful in the every day. Each small thing we can renew or revive should bring us this Joy. Jesus prayed for his disciples and prayed for us that his joy may be made complete in us. If we are reading this I want us to reflect on the hymn Crown him with many crowns – associated with this time of year in the Church (there is a link to a video version). It reminds us of the wonder and joy of our faith. Through the verses we crown him the lamb upon the throne, the Virgin’s son, the Lord of love, the Lord of peace and the final magnificent verse the lord of years, the potentate of time. I think that gets across the joy we need to concentrate on and cultivate in this next period alongside the need to pull together to serve God as only we can.  Amen

A video link to the hymn Crown him with many crowns.

CCLI – Song  reproduced under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989

Easter 6 – Rogation – Year B – May 9th 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Link to Rev Alison Way’s video reflection and rogation litany

Acts 10:44-end, John 15:9-17

In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen

The sixth Sunday of Easter is traditionally the trigger to start 3 days of prayer called rogation in the lead up to Ascension day on Thursday. If we have been using the daily prayer resources we have been praying for rogation in the week just passed. The word rogation comes from the latin to ask and was inspired by the collect for this Sunday in the book of common prayer, which includes whatsoever ye shall ask for in my Name – he will give it you. These words of Jesus were also found towards the end of the gospel set for today.

Originally rogation was adapted akin to some Greek and Roman traditions, and included praying for the crops via an annual procession, and the marking of parish boundaries. This was one of the things that was surpressed during the reformation, being restored once again in 1559. The poet and priest George Herbert who was based not too far from here in a rural parish near Salisbury said of this occasion.

Rogationtide should be about asking God’s blessing upon the fields, a sense of justice in keeping the boundaries of the fields, caring for each other, in the model of the village walking together as it beat the bounds, offering a time for reconciliation and friendship, and care for the poor by the distribution of charity.

Let’s take those ideas in turn and dwell a little within their wisdom – It is always important to pray for the land and those who work it – all the different types of crops and livestock. Perhaps we could take a moment and pause here to think about what issues there might be. For example we will have read in the press about issues with the lack of workers to gather essential harvests. This was certainly true for some bulb growers earlier in the year and has the potential to impact our soft fruit harvest. There are also impact on any harvest that is traditionally exported and how that is working  (particularly problematic for the harvest of fish, fish farming and seafood). When I spoke to Charles Buckler his first thought was the need for rain, so the grass would grow better to feed his livestock. The very cool dry spring is another concern and maybe we should be evoking the prayer book prayer for rain and warmth to swell the grain!

Other things we should reflect on and pray for are all those who bring the food we eat to our tables in all the aspects of the food supply chain. We have choices we make day by day in how we live lightly on the ground God has given us.

Our gospel reading today has given us one of the many growth and growing analogies that Jesus used. It goes like this:-You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. This is interesting – fruit by in large doesn’t last! It has a moment of peak ripeness and tastiness (and then quite quickly starts to rot!). Fruit only lasts with our  intervention, and we have become quite inventive over the years in intervening. In a way in this instance our fruitfulness and that lasting says more about the work of the Holy Spirit in us – which makes that so! The Holy Spirit has always been inventive in intervening!

Interestingly the fruitfulness Jesus is most asking for us is that we love one another, which is another theme that George Herbert takes up with his thoughts about caring for each other in the sense of a small community. What George Herbert said was caring for each other, in the model of the village walking together as it beat the bounds, offering a time for reconciliation and friendship. It is interesting what we have learnt about our friendships in recent times. I don’t know about you but I have been managing in recent weeks to see a few family members and a handful of friends. Mostly those relatively local to here! It has been such a joy to actually see people – rather than talk on the phone or on a screen. Friends have always been important to us – I think we understand that in a refreshed way now! Up to now I have always enjoyed a chinwag over a good cup of coffee! It will be good when we can do that more and more in the days ahead.

Friendship plays a key role in our relationship with Jesus too, Jesus says in our gospel passage- I have called you friends. This is to indicate the kind of relationship we are to have with Jesus based on love, support and companionship. This is not a relationship based on compulsion or having to follow orders. It is about our commitment not Jesus commanding us. It has to be that way so it is a conscious choice on our part. We are not mindless automatons – we are free spirits. There is a selection of responsibilities on us in being Jesus’ friends – which is all about the fruit stuff I was talking about before.

This verse John 15 15 – I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I heard from my father – has travelled with me for a long time – it was preached at my confirmation many moons ago! The preacher was Bishop Michael Marshall, the then Bishop of Woolwich who went on to be one of the evangelists in the decade of evangelism at the turn of the Millennium. It made a deep impression on me at the time, partly because Bishop Michael reminded us that the word we hear as servant (who does his master’s bidding) could also be translated as slave (with no rights at  all). What Jesus offers us in friendship is a very, very long way from being his slave. It is about all of us – following the way God has for us – responding to his call. It is a heart, mind and body thing, not just something we are doing because we are ‘owned’ like a slave.

A final part of what George Herbert attributes to rogation is about reconciliation and recognising boundaries. Reconciliation is good for us, and something that should  characterise our abiding in God’s love for us as described  by Jesus in this gospel. Holding on to bitterness and malice towards others is bad for us – I am not saying seeking reconciliation is always easy but it is the way Jesus would have us walk if we can. (I appreciate there are some circumstances where it is not possible or practical.)

George Herbert’s take on boundaries also struck me. He said a sense of justice in keeping the boundaries of the fields. Though originally this is about recognising what is yours from mine, in crops and livestock terms this is clearly not taking what is not ours. Using the phrase ‘a sense of justice in keeping the boundaries’ can be applied much more widely. A sense of justice means recognising when our society and our world order favours one over and against another, and doing whatever we can to try to break down such injustices.  This is a big topic, but again plays into our sense of loving one another and bearing fruit. Ultimately Jesus is asking us to dig deeper (not always easy) and reminds us earlier in this reading of the consequences, where I will finish these reflections.

Jesus said – I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Let us pray

God of all, we give you thanks for the gift of friendship: for the giving and the receiving; for the opportunities and the challenges; for the laughter and the tears; for the conversations and the silence; for the moments and the memories. Draw us deeper into your love and your joy in us and bless us with the confidence to proclaim Jesus as our dearest friend, teacher and Saviour. We ask this in his name. Amen.

References: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Copyright acknowledgement Some material included in this service is copyright: ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020 and from the book of Common Prayer

The prayer is from and is copyright © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission.

Easter 5 2021 – Rev Alison Way

Acts 8:26-40, John 15:1-8

Video link for this reflection:

In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen

Let’s concentrate on our first reading from Acts – Who was Philip? There are in fact several Philips mentioned in the New Testament, including one of Jesus’ original 12 disciples, but the Philip who stars in our story this morning was one of the early converts in Jerusalem in the first days after Pentecost. It is thought he was originally a Jew who had lived outside of Palestine, but had probably come to Jerusalem to attend one of the religious festivals and stayed on after his conversion to Christ. Therefore, Philip was an “ordinary” person like us.  He had not known Jesus in his lifetime. His belief launched him on a course of action that gave special significance to his life.

Philip’s story is an interesting one. Philip soon became one of seven men who had so gained the trust of the Christian community that they were appointed to oversee the distribution of food to Christian widows and orphans. Then when most Christians were forced out of Jerusalem by persecution (all around the time when Stephen – another of the recently appointed overseers was stoned) – The followers of Jesus were widely dispersed and Philip ended up around 40 miles from Jerusalem in the city of Samaria and he told the people there about Christ.

Here is a rather approximate map showing Samaria and Jerusalem So we can understand the distance involved. In Samaria, Philip rapidly inspired people through his teaching and more people became members of the early church. Earlier in Acts 8 it says that the crowds with one accord listened to Philip. He must have been very impressive and a good speaker – for people to be so rapt in attention to him. He did not just speak as he was also doing signs and wonders, and through the power of the Spirit dwelling within him many people were healed of many different conditions. In fact, so much was happening in Samaria that the disciples Peter and John also went to see what was going on and to be part of it. They also helped the people fully receive the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is into all of that situation, Philip, with the crowds hanging on his every word and lots of signs, wonders and excitement, that we find the angel of the Lord sending him in another direction completely. This is where our reading today starts. In Acts, we don’t get Philip’s reaction and we can wonder about what he felt about it. When we are already in the midst of something that is exciting and rewarding, it might have been tempting to ignore the angel and stay put! Certainly what he was doing and how he was doing it in Samaria was yielding significant fruit for Christ. Sometimes relative success can make turning in a different direction more difficult to take on board. Yet we have no sense of hesitation in Philip. It says plainly He got up and went. Maybe ignoring an angel of the Lord is just not what you do! For certainly, when I have had strong senses that this is something I have to do from God, this has usually been very much the case. When I have ignored such feelings I have always regretted it!

Even with our 21st century understanding, where the angel was pointing Philip too doesn’t sound terribly attractive. Go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) We know this is a disputed area between Israel and Palestine even today. Philip displayed an amazing level of obedience really, just to go as he did. He was not just willing to be both useful where he was now but also to go to an unfamiliar place where he didn’t know what would happen next. A place where it was less than obvious how his talent for inspiring people about Christ was going to be used or where there was going to be lots of people to hear.

  • Ah yes – we really need inspiring speakers who can draw a crowd in the wilderness!

  • Ah yes – we really need a gifted healer in the wilderness where nobody lives!

Both of these are clearly a nonsense! What’s more if we just return to the map, we do need to consider the distance Philip was being asked to go too. Samaria is here and Gaza is here – even as the crow flies we are looking at more than 80 miles! Certainly further than that as the tracks go! This was hardly an everyday thing to do. Philip’s confidence in what he was doing is even more admirable in view of the distances involved and his courage!

It is easy to feel daunted and intimidated by our current times and circumstances. With the power of the Holy Spirit we only need to concentrate on each step of the way, rather than have it all mapped out ahead of us. We need to pray for the Spirit to help us be courageous as Philip was. Even when we don’t know what exactly is going to happen next!! Just as an aside I do have a mix of feelings about how to proceed from this point forward. Safety and safely have been our primary concerns in all our journeys up to this point. For our churches, we will be exploring with the PCCs and our working groups how to move forward positively and where the Holy Spirit is leading us – exciting and challenging times ahead. We will need to concentrate on just knowing the next step like Philip did (not the 15 or so after that). For someone like me who loves a good plan – this is hugely frustrating, but I think the only way to do this in line with what God wants of us and to do it courageously too.

Yet to Philip following where the Holy Spirit was leading was the only course of action he considered. He was living within himself following the path the Holy Spirit had for him and as a direct result of his faithfulness and obedience, confidence and courage unpromising as it may seem, he ended up in a place where God could use him to great effect. We need to remember this too in the days ahead! Philip was ideal to help the Ethiopian Eunuch understand about the good news of Jesus Christ. How true it is even today, that God used the open door of Philip’s heart as an opportunity in his life, as God can use the open door of our hearts as opportunities in our lives, in the most unlikely of places, if we are open to his plan for our lives. How can we become more willing to listen and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit however unlikely that guidance may seem, however far the journey takes us?

Later traditions identify the man that Philip helped as the founder of the Christian Church in Ethiopia. So Philip’s obedience and courage had immense consequences for good. With hindsight, knowing the end of the story – we can see all this makes sense but that is hardly how it must have felt lived at the time . As we know too well – we do not live with the benefit of hindsight. All our lives have been engulfed by something that has shaken our foundations! And many things we took for granted! For us as it was for Philip the challenge is what we do in the middle of our daily life, where there is no hindsight to affirm what we feel we should do to follow God. Especially when we feel we are being asked to do something unusual and demanding or something we would rather not in all honesty be doing! And of course,  where we need to be courageous! This is the challenge of discipleship and following the spirit’s guidance in our lives.

As the Gospel reading reminded us, we are to abide in God’s love for us and let his words abide in us. Abiding in Christ is the way to ensure that we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit  and living not at the mercy of our own whims. The picture of the vine in that reading is also one of growing, pruning and fruitfulness:-

  • Dwelling in God is the way for us to grow to be fruitful.

  • Dwelling in God is the way where as necessary we are pruned.

  • Dwelling in God is the way to give us the strength to follow where God leads us no matter how unlikely what God has in mind may seem.

I am ending these thoughts with a prayer for courage: – Holy Spirit, give us courage to move willingly into the unknown. Holy Spirit, give us courage to be willing to proceed with joy.  Holy Spirit, give us courage so that our uncertainties do not turn into terror.  Holy Spirit, give us courage to overcome the lures that may compromise our faith. Holy Spirit, give us courage to remain steady until we hear your voice, that in all we do and say, your name will forever be praised. Amen


CCLI – Song reproduced and streaming license under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul Church, Wincanton

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995

Copyright acknowledgement Some material included in this service is copyright: ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020

The prayer is adapted from and is copyright © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Reproduced with permission.

Reflection for Easter 4 – Good Shepherd/vocations Sunday – Penny Ashton

Link to video file – apologies for the quiet volume.

Acts 4: 5-12

God chooses the most unlikely.  I am reminded of that every time I sit at my computer and try to find out what God has to say to us in this part of the service.  We have often told to Tiny Church the story of how Samuel was sent to Jesse while Saul was still king, for the purpose of anointing one of Jesse’s sons to succeed Saul as king.  The story is used to illustrate to the children that you don’t have to be handsome or strong to be chosen by God, as God is primarily interested in what is in your heart.  David was so very much the unvalued son, that Jesse did not even bother to call him in from the fields where he was minding the sheep to show to the prophet, and he was only fetched later when Samuel had rejected all his other sons.  The standing of a shepherd in Judean society was about as low as you could get – and yet the picture of the shepherd as role model of good leadership runs right through the whole Bible and is used for kings and prophets, both good and bad.  Even in the days before Jesus, God was demonstrating that mankind has a knack of making the wrong choices of role model.

Returning to our story in Acts, our reading starts in the middle of the story, and if you would like to put the whole story together, it is worth reading Acts 3 and the first few verses of chapter 4 to find out what lead up to this.  The prisoners referred to in v7 are Peter and John, who are probably not looking or feeling at their best as they have just spent the night in prison. You will need to read chapter 3 to find out why they were in prison, but it does go to show that you never know what might happen when you set out to do something as apparently harmless as going to church to pray, and pausing on the way in to talk to a man who is begging.

The list of people that they were required to answer to is a daunting one.  The office of high priest had been instigated as a hereditary one in direct line to Aaron – brother of Moses, but by this time it was no longer passed on in this way, but was in the control of a few powerful families.  You will remember that Annas and Caiaphas also presided over the trial of Jesus – Annas was father-in-law to Caiaphas and had been high priest before him, and it was not uncommon for previous high priests to remain in the inner circle as powers behind the throne.  And so it was to the highest and probably the most learned men in the land that Peter makes his very spirited defence – surely being aware of just how much danger he is in.  The only power that these men did not have was to sentence someone to death, although as we saw with the trial of Jesus, they were in a powerful position to influence the Roman governor.  To find out what happened afterwards, you will also need to read on from v13, but it is clear that despite his comparative lack of education, Peter had relied on the promise that Jesus had made for just this type of situation which is recorded in Matthew 10:19 and in Luke 12:11 that when brought before the authorities, he would be given the words to say by the Holy Spirit; and in so doing, he had thrown them into confusion.

The verse that Peter quotes from Psalm 118 returns us to the theme of God choosing the most unlikely.  Had you or I been in a position to choose, it is unlikely that we would have decided that the best place for His son to exercise his ministry would be as an artisan builder in a rural backwater, a very insignificant part of the then mighty empire which governed most of the known world.  Surely it would have made more sense to us to have Jesus placed near the seat of power, as Moses was in his childhood.  And yet we are still here today, and while the name of Jesus is known throughout the world, I doubt if many people could name many of the roman emperors – I know I couldn’t.

Returning to our theme of vocations though, when I preached on this Sunday last year, I gave you the Church of England definition of vocation and challenged you to find yours.  It is worth repeating here:

‘Vocation means what you are called by God to be and do.

For some, this is a specific calling to ministry. For others, it could mean serving God through faithful discipleship in everyday life.  Everyone has a vocation. Find yours.’

Also on the website under the heading, ‘No Ordinary Ministry’ it goes on to quote from Isaiah:

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!”

    Isaiah 6:8

It is from that verse in Isaiah that we get our hymn ‘I the Lord of sea and sky’, with its chorus beginning ‘Here I am Lord’.  I have to confess that I find that hymn, and the one that starts with the line ‘Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee’  quite difficult to sing with total honesty!

Both our churches in Wincanton and Pen Selwood will be holding their Annual Parish meetings in the next few weeks, and in both churches there are vacancies for people to serve in a number of roles, including PCC members, Deanery Synod representatives and Churchwardens.  It is vital that at this time we all spend serious time in prayer to find out if God is asking us to serve Him and his church in a new way – possibly in a way that we would never have considered before.  We must also pray for those already serving, and for any who are considering volunteering, that they will be upheld in any decision, and given assurance that they are doing the right thing.  We are all encouraged to take an active part in the life of our churches in our New Testament reading for today which is from 1 John 3: verses 16 to the end of the chapter.  In v18 John says: ‘let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.’  If you had told me 5 years ago that I would be putting together services and preaching to you, I would have laughed at you, but I was delighted to learn recently that thanks to the wonderful support I received from both churches and from Alison, my licence is to be renewed for another 5 years.  I would also have not believed what a joy it has been to me to be able to serve in this way, and in this time I am sure I have received much more love than I have given.

Could you be missing out on a similar joy?  When Peter and John were eventually released, they returned to their fellow believers, and having told them everything, they all burst into a spontaneous prayer of worship.  In John 15:11:Jesus says to the disciples: ‘I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’  Let us all decide now to spend some time in serious prayer to find out whether God has a plan for each of us that will make our joy complete.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995


Easter 3 – Rev Alison Way

Acts 3:12-19, Luke 24:36b-48

In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen

The way our cycle of readings works is that we dip in and out of the action. That is particularly true of our gospel today. It is Luke’s gospel and as with all the accounts of the resurrection it is slightly different.  Just to recap in Luke’s version of these events. The women – this time a whole group of them have been to the tomb. They encountered the stone rolled away and two men in dazzling clothes. These two tell the women Jesus has risen. The women go back and tell the disciples – who think this is an idle tale! Peter goes to look for himself in the tomb and sees it empty. He goes back home feeling amazed at the turn of events.

Meanwhile 2 of the disciples split from the rest to walk to Emmaus. This is a village about 7 miles away. They meet a stranger on the road and the two talk with him. The stranger explains the whole thing to them again as they walk – starting with Moses and the prophets. The 2 disciples encourage the stranger to stay and eat with them when they get to their destination. They recognise it is Jesus as he breaks the bread (and at that point Jesus disappears), and then even though they have only just arrived they set out back to Jerusalem to find the other disciples.

We have seen the Lord they said – as they get back and meet with the other disciples. The two were just explaining all that had happened and how Jesus had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. This is the point where our reading today started just after while they were talking about this. The reading today begins Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’

This must have been quite a moment. Into this moment Jesus brings a deep sense of the peace of God. Let’s pause the action there for a moment and explore this peace of God before we look at what happens next.

The peace of God is easy to say but not particularly easy to explain. It is a sense of calm and the presence of God with us. It is a sense of the love God has for us, for our good and for our flourishing. We experience it whether the going is easy or the going is tough. We probably experience glimpses of it and moments in this life – one day we will know the peace of God more fully face to face. When people are having a tough time I regularly pray for the peace of God to fill their hearts or to surround them with that peace. I am trying to use words, rather clumsily in all probability, to describe the love God has for each of us. This is something right now we particularly should be praying for Elizabeth our Queen and the Royal family. Praying for the peace of God to fill her heart and to surround them all with peace. Here is a suitable prayer – please pause and pray

Merciful God, be close to all who mourn, especially The Queen and all members of the Royal Family. May they know the hope of your promises, the comfort of your love, and surround them all with your peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


We have also spent many years greeting each other with a handshake or hug of peace. It grieves me that we can’t do this at the moment, though I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea. The peace reflects the calm assurance that what God is doing is best. The peace comes from knowing that God is in control, causing all things to “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

One of the other origins of sharing the peace as is our custom is to ensure we are at one with our brothers and sisters. It affords us an opportunity to put things right too before we move into sharing the body and blood of Jesus at communion. Some of the introductions to the peace puts this emphasis very clearly – for example – Let love be genuine. Never pay back evil for evil. As far as it lies with you, live at peace with everyone. OR We are the body of Christ.
In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life

Let’s leave these thoughts here for a moment and return to the scene described in Luke where we paused earlier. Jesus says peace be with you, but peace is far from the disciples’ initial reaction. Frankly they are startled and terrified and the initial reaction is they think they are seeing a ghost. In the present, in the moment and after the trauma they had experienced, this is an understandable and very human response.

Jesus does three things at this point to address the fear:-

First – he acknowledges their emotional response with re-assurance. Addressing both the fear and what for him is the root of it the doubts in their hearts.

Second – he establishes that he is with them physically in three different ways.

  • First, look at me, he particularly draws attention to his hands and feet where the scars would have been

  • Second, touch me – as he is flesh and bones and ghosts are not!

  • Third, because after that he could still sense both joy and disbelief in the room and with Luke with the medical spin in his gospel he says – Watch me eat. Then he eats broiled fish in front of them because in their understanding ghosts can’t eat.

This feels quite confronting to me – looking, touching and watching Jesus eat.  He is trying to shake them into this new reality, shake off the doubt, and shake in the joy that he is there fully in person standing amongst them. It is worth imagining ourselves in this position and feeling the joy rising in us at the realisation of the wonder God has done. Going back to first principles and recapturing the purpose of the resurrection for us all.

The third thing Jesus does to address the fear – remembering that this comes last, and after all of the reassurance and active stuff I have just been describing. Jesus explains again what has happened and I suspect at much greater length than we have written here. In Luke’s gospel Jesus is clearer about what is coming before the cross. He is now reminding them what he said and how it fits into the story of the people of God.

He reminds them of their key role as witnesses and particularly about the importance of repentance and forgiveness of sins. In a way this tunes into what I was saying earlier about the peace of God and our reconciliation with each other. It is important we recognise in the light of the resurrection, how we lean into God’s love for us through his powerful forgiveness when we repent of our wrongdoings and short comings. We are set right with God by the power of the resurrection. This isn’t deserved or earned by us, but reflects the loving heart of Jesus for us. Our commitment to the peace of God then must be to be witnesses to it in our hearts and lives. Seeking the peace of God and being channels of the peace of God to those around us Amen

To finish I strongly recommend you listen to the John Rutter anthem at this point – which I will play in Church – Deep peace (Gaelic Blessing)– this is the link to a version sung by Libera

References The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, Some of the text is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020 Copyright acknowledgement Some material included is copyright: ©  The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020