Monthly Archives: January 2023

Candlemas – Penny Ashton – 29th January 2023

To us nowadays it is hard to understand the importance of light to people in the time of Christ, or even in our own country’s history.  We can turn on the light with the flick of a switch, and with modern LED bulbs, it costs us very little.  Our houses – if double glazed as most of us probably are, can afford to have large windows letting in plenty of daylight, as glass is no longer the expensive commodity that it once was.  It is not easy for us therefore to understand the importance of light in times past.  And yet even in fairly recent history, light has been a precious commodity which needed to be preserved.  My late mother-in-law remembered studying for her then Highers, nowadays A levels with her book on the windowsill to catch the last of the daylight in order not to use up too much precious wartime electricity.  On the rare occasions when we have power cuts, we realise quite how dependant we are on good lighting as we use torches, candles, and portable lamps to see our way around our homes, and this point was brought home to me earlier this week when I tried to take part in a national electricity saving hour, and discovered that my touch typing skills are not as good as I thought they were as it grew dark and I resisted switching on the light!  At such times we understand why John’s vision of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation tell of the new Jerusalem as a place where there was no more night.  We have so much light indeed that it has become a pollutant and is preventing us from seeing the beauty of the night sky as we used to see it years ago.

And candles, which give us such a lovely light – and often scent as well today – were a precious and expensive form of lighting, as well as the brightest.  Sophronius, a 6th century bishop of Jerusalem said that ‘the candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light’ And so it was that people would, at Candlemas bring their stock of candles to church that they might be blessed – perhaps in the hope that they would burn down a little slower, and therefore last that bit longer.  And it was not all that long ago that the light output from a bulb was measured in candlepower, rather in the same way that our cars performance was measured in horsepower.  Nowadays we measure input in watts, and light output is something that we are all having to get used to measuring in lumens – something I am still a bit hazy about personally. 

It is worth remembering though that light was God’s first command in creation before bringing anything solid or living into being, and that Jesus is often described as the light of the world.  As John tells us in the Christmas gospel – ‘in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’ Light matters.  Light shows up imperfections.  Light is cleansing.  There is no way of hiding when it is light.  The church I attended when in my teens did not approve of candles in church – we were so low down the candle, as the saying goes that we didn’t have them at all.  The teaching was that if we held Jesus to be the light of the world, we didn’t need to add candles.  I can see the logic, but nowadays I prefer to have the beauty of candles to remind me.

Our theme today from our readings is the coming of the light into darkness.  Malachi tells us that the Lord whom we seek will suddenly come into his temple – but this may not necessarily be a reason to rejoice.  For he will be like a refiner’s fire or fullers soap.  Fullers soap was a strong alkaline used in the preparation of woollen cloth to bind the fibres together, and it stripped out any grease that was in the wool – and had the same effect on the hands of anyone who handled it.  Soap nowadays advertises itself by its moisturising properties – fuller’s soap was quite the opposite.  As to the refiners fire, you don’t need me to tell you quite how painful it can be to put your hand too close to a living flame.  These things are destructive of impurities, and leave behind the clean, soft wool, or the pure shining metal.

The fulfilment of Malachi’s prophecy comes in our gospel reading, as Mary carries the infant Christ into the temple to present him as holy to God as the law required, and to make an offering in order to allow them to take him home with them.  An ordinary couple, not very rich, bringing the smallest of sacrifices to redeem their first son into a crowded temple amongst many other worshippers and people transacting business.  And yet in the midst of all the hubbub, Simeon and Anna both instantly recognised the Christ child and gave thanks and worship to God.  We are not told the words of Anna, although she spoke to many people about the child, but we are blessed to have the words of Simeon, and we use them in our evening worship, and often at funerals or when praying with the dying.

As Mary carried the Christ into the temple – the light of the world in her arms – so we too can carry the light of Christ into our communities and workplaces.  Later in his life Jesus told his audience that they were the light of the world, and that it was no use putting a light under a jar, it needed to go on a high stand so that it would give light to all the house.  We didn’t bring our candles or our light bulbs into church to be blessed today – but we do carry that light with us when we leave. 

I am reminded of a story told from Wincanton pulpit some years ago of a church set on the top of a hill or mountain, which had no lighting.  People who attended would bring their lights with them and as darkness fell during the worship would light them.  At the end of the worship the paths down the hillside were full of light as the worshippers used their lights to illuminate their journey home, the light seeming to spill out of the church and into all the town.  Let us carry that light with us as we leave this place today. 

I would like to finish with two short prayers taken from the Christingle Service that we used in 2020.  I have taken out the word Christingle and substituted light for today:

Lord Jesus, Light of the World, as I hold this light and think about your great love for me,

help me to take this light out into the world and to share your love with others,

especially those who need it most. Amen.

Let us go into the world to walk in God’s light, to rejoice in God’s love and to reflect God’s glory.

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, Pastoral Services and Times and Seasons, material from which is included in this service, are copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000, 2005 and 2006

New Patterns for Worship, © The Archbishops’ Council 2002

Bible readings accessed from (New Revised Standard Version)

Epiphany 3 – January 22nd 2023 – Rev Alison Way

Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23

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

Sometimes we need to shift our position for something significant to change or start with us and in us. One of the things our prophecy from Isaiah today shows us is that the Messiah, the great light was to start his ministry in a particular place. The land of Zebulun and Napthali – which roughly met on the shores of the lake of Galilee at Capernaum. Indeed as we read in Matthew’s gospel that is exactly where Jesus starts his ministry, shortly after he has heard that John the Baptist has been arrested. Instead of working as a carpenter, this is the point of the seismic shift in his day to day life, as he began to proclaim ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’.

Not only did Jesus change his direction, he physically changed where he was based. Not only did this fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy (which mattered to the gospel writer Matthew) but also in all likelihood made it easier to make the big changes he needed to, without people passing judgements like isn’t he the carpenter’s son. In Matthew’s gospel we don’t get at this point, the story of Jesus in the temple of Nazareth that appears in Luke’s gospel at the start of his active ministry.    

Jesus then goes on to pass on this big change to others. I have often wondered if Jesus already knew the men that would be his disciples. Based on him being significantly away from his home area, I have to say I think this is really unlikely. So, Jesus goes up to Simon, Andrew, James and John as a total stranger and says ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people’. All this makes the fact that they did just that, all the more remarkable. We don’t get any sense that they dithered or delayed – they got on with it, left everything they knew and followed Jesus. I admire how wholehearted they were, and I know a little of experiences of God’s call – and can say when you know, you know. That doesn’t mean we know why or how or what, but sometimes there is an undeniable sense that somewhere is the next right place to be.

Incidentally, this was very much the sense of call I got wondering around Wincanton and Pen Selwood back in the summer of 2019. I had got a copy of your parish profile, and had stopped off after a trip to see my mother to get a better feel for the communities and have a look around. It could not have been clearer to me that I needed to give this serious attention and in due course after prayerful consideration, I put in an application.  I have to say I had no idea what I was really going to be in for (as none of us did and I often reflect on arriving at the end of February 2020 – which is rapidly coming up to 3 years ago!). Call can be surprising and change significantly more than we bargain for and in ways we cannot imagine!

Making changes can be difficult for all of us – but being more like Jesus and following God’s call and drawing a line in the sand or starting from a different place can be helpful. Especially when the change is big.

In the Church at the moment there are lots of changes going on. In the Diocese there has been the retirement of the Dean of the Cathedral in the press last weekend. Then on Friday news that our Archdeacon Anne Gell will be acting dean, with Charlie Peer becoming our acting archdeacon. The best thing we can do in this situation is pray for the Cathedral, its leadership, people, staff and volunteers,  and for Charlie our acting archdeacon. All the deaneries are looking at how to reduce stipendiary posts at the moment, and I am going to a meeting about options in our deanery for that next week. Please pray for that process too.

On a bigger stage in the Church of England, there has been lots in the press about an appointment of a ‘forward in faith’ Diocesan bishop and the next steps in the Living in Faith and Love process. The Church of England is in a period of change and shifting our starting position just as Jesus did. Different people have different views of all of this and hold them equally strongly.

I was particularly unhappy first thing on Wednesday morning, when that the Living in faith and love process news had been ‘leaked’ from Tuesday’s house of Bishops meeting before any official statements. Leaking like this should not be part of the way our Church operates, and remains a part of our political life that I particularly dislike.

As I said it is possible to think a whole variety of different things about all this. That the current path chosen by the house of Bishops is about right, or that it is too conservative or that it is too liberal. The proposals in short are to allow blessings services in church for same sex couples, offer a full apology for how the LGBT+ communities have been treated by the church, reduce the strictures on clergy in same sex relationships and encourage us all to be welcoming to everyone.  

Personally (and you can disagree well with me about this) I would like to be in a position where I can celebrate all people’s loving committed monogamous relationships. I want everyone to be people as both our readings stated today that can see the great light of the love of God in Jesus Christ blessing the love they have for one another. I have been known to describe my role as being in the ‘loving business’ and I want to point always to a God of love.

In a passage I find particularly helpful in Galatians 3 it says – There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Where we view everyone as equal needs to be the starting point for me and it is on that we need to shift the ground – and open the door equally to everyone. It seems we are still quite a long way from that at the moment, and on a journey which has many more steps along the way..

God’s love is so much larger than we allow for – one modern worship song using some old words says of God’s love – Here is love, vast as the ocean, loving-kindness as the flood, when the Prince of Life, our Ransom, shed for us His precious blood. Who His love will not remember? Who can cease to sing His praise? He can never be forgotten throughout heav’n’s eternal days.

As Jesus said in our gospel today – Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Interestingly to end with a few words from NT Wright about the word ‘Repent’ in Jesus words, which is where I started talking about shifting our position. He says the trouble with that word too, is that people have often not understood it. They have thought it means ‘feeling bad about yourself’. It doesn’t. It means ‘change direction’, or ‘turn around and go the other way’ or ‘stop what you are doing and do the opposite’. NT Wright concludes. How you feel about it isn’t the really important thing. It’s what you do that matters. Amen

Here is love vast as the ocean (reproduced via under CCLI 217043 for St Peter and St Paul’s Church Wincanton – William Rees.  The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, NT Wright – Matthew for Everyone part 12004 SPCK.

Plough Sunday Jan 15th 2023 – Rev Alison Way

Genesis 1:9-13 and Matthew 6:25-end – Rev Alison Way

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

One of the grounding things about living in a more rural community, is being surrounded by the natural world and land that is worked to produce food by our farmers. Today as we mark Plough Sunday, we do it at a time when farmers no longer plough. Mostly the land is ploughed and prepared pretty quickly after the last harvest, many farmers practice ‘minimum’ tillage to retain the soil structure and are careful not to overwork the ground. Frankly, with the amount of rain we have had recently not ploughing in January is a very good thing, as attempting to plough right now would be pretty difficult, and a very muddy experience. Another reason for our changing farming practices are the winter crops like wheat, barley, oats, beans and rape which benefit from vernalization over the winter – that the seed is in the ground through the winter months to promote it germinating in the spring. Farmers like all of us, are looking at ways of reducing their carbon footprint and not using their machinery so much in relation to fuel costs.

I think it is important however, to pray for our farmers at the start of each new year, and to give thanks for all they do to keep food on our tables. Jesus told many stories about the land and how things grow. I know for many in this church family growing things is an important part of the cycle of each year in our gardens or the local allotments. Even I (who is notoriously lacking green fingers) has been growing things in the Rectory greenhouse for the last 3 summers. In 2022 we may remember I was going to plant some seeds and germinate my courgette and tomato plants for last summer. This was the first time I had done this. This worked ok for the courgette plant, which went on to be pretty prolific, but my first attempts at tomatoes were less than successful. I re-coursed to planting out some tomato plants bought at both the Pen Selwood and Wincanton May plant sales along with a butternut squash.

A tomato with a green stem

Description automatically generated with low confidenceA few weeks later, however my tomato seeds did finally germinate after I had ignored them for a bit, producing 3 rather weedy looking plants. I had a little space left near the door of the greenhouse so I planted them too. I have to say I was not very hopeful they would amount to much, but like everything else they soon where springing up and forming healthy growth, flowering and so forth. I have to say I had the most prolific tomato crop as a result, which were delicious fresh and when I am making a tomato-based pasta sauce, I am still even now using tomatoes I have frozen from the greenhouse! This is also partly because I was still picking them in early November (as it was so mild!).

I am going to pause before I think about that to bless the seeds that you have brought for this year’s growing season – let’s just have a look at what we have got around the church.  

Blessing prayer on page 4 of the order of service

Thinking about my 2022 tomato harvest, there is something in this about not judging a book by the cover (when I thought my seedlings looked pretty ropey), about not giving up on things that don’t look very promising to begin with or take significantly longer than we want to happen. In today’s world we very much prize speed and having what we want exactly when we want it (and instantly!). It is good to remember that this is society thinking and not necessarily the ways of God’s love for us, and as your grandmother probably used to say – Good things are worth waiting for!

Our gospel today is about moving away from worrying about all the stuff in our lives, and concentrating on today and what it brings us. Sometimes we can be so caught up with stuff that we don’t see what is going on around us in the moment, and we definitely miss out.  Our reading from Genesis reminds us of how all our created order was made by God, and how all the plants and trees were made to yield seed and fruit for us to enjoy. Taking this forward this also reminds us of our need to be good stewards of our environment, and like our farmers be mindful of our carbon footprints and look at ways to reduce our fuel consumption along side this.

I have used the LOAF principles for some years to help with thinking about living lightly on the earth. And here are some Canon Alan Loaves (from the Wincanton raise the roof cook book) available in the parish office!

The L stands for Local – using local suppliers for things instantly reduces how far what we eat has travelled before we eat it (this is the concept of food miles).

The O stands for organic or own grown – using things that we have grown ourselves vastly reduces our food miles, we do need to be mindful of the chemicals we use to help in growth too.

The A stands for animal friendly – using products where the animals have been well cared for where we can.

And the F stands for fair trade – this makes sure when we buy products the farmer is getting a fairer share of the proceeds rather than the middle men.

A new year affords us an opportunity to pray for our farmers, reflect on our approach to our tables, and our approach to growing things where we can, and refreshing our approach to caring for the wonder of our natural world. There is always more we can be doing, but let’s do all of this in thankfulness for God’s wonderful creation and thinking of others near and far in our approach and concentrating on living in the moment. Amen.   

 ©Arthur Rank – Beyond Consumerism – Plough Sunday 2023 –  The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995

Epiphany – January 8th 2023 – Rev Alison Way

Epiphany Jan 8th 2023 – Isaiah 60:1-6  and Matthew 2:1-12 – Rev Alison Way

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

Every year I send and receive Christmas cards. It’s a tradition I rather like, and the cards are now sent to people I have encountered over the years, from those family members I have known all my life, those I have known most of my life (like my best friend at nursery school!) and from all the different contexts I have inhabited over my years on this earth. It is always nice to think about and pray for the people as the cards are written and sent, and as they arrive too. Occasionally like everyone I found out sad news of a friends passing, which hasn’t reached me by other means, but equally these annual greetings can be accompanied by happy news from my wide circle of friends.

What is on the cards always interests me, and since becoming ordained I have certainly received more cards depicting the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany stories than before. In the manger today are all the cards I have received thus far (as I got some in the post on Wednesday I am not sure I have finished yet). As the first cards sent in the days of Charles Dickens depicted Christmas merriment rather than the Biblical stories, I did receive one showing that kind of thing. Also a fair few contain wreaths, winter scenes, Christmas trees, churches, one with Father Christmas and a variety with animals (robins, dogs and in my case particularly cats!).

My favourite of the humorous cards this year (and I did get 2 different versions of it) – is this one with the four fork handle/candles (like the Advent candles) as a celebration of all things the Two Ronnies. When Ronnie Corbett died, I knew the Vicar of his local church who undertook his funeral, and on that occasion they too have 4 prominently displayed candles as a nod to this well-loved comedy sketch – which I remember thinking was a lovely touch for this man who made us laugh so much.

With my selection of story cards, I can tell the whole Christmas story – from the angel Gabriel visiting Mary, to the journey to Bethlehem, Bethlehem itself, the Madonna and child, the holy family, the holy family with animals, the visit of the shepherds and the journeys of the wise men and their visit. Eight of the cards had all the visitors there together. I think St Francis has a lot to answer for over this. He was the first to do a re-enactment of the nativity in 1223 in a cave near Greccio in Italy.  Initially St Francis had just Mary and Joseph, appropriate animals and a new born baby in an animal feeding trough. Over the years since angels, shepherds and of course the wise men have been added!

In our mind’s eye however despite what the cards give us (I had several that do this and have sent ones that do this too!) I really don’t think these 2 events Shepherds and wisemen are that proximate to each other. The shepherds visited a newborn they found in an animal feeding trough. The angels clearly said the baby was born this day, when they visit the shepherds on the hillside. They don’t say the baby is in a stable but in a manger, though we have assumed that is where an animal feeding trough would be. But it could easily be something less substantial and more exposed than that, like a lean-to where the animals were kept overnight. Simple dwellings in this time period had one room, and a continuation of the roof over an area for the animals.

My other difficulty is that the account of the wise men in Matthew’s gospel says three things which suggest that wisemen and Shepherds together is just not the case. Firstly, the visit of the wise men involved ‘entering the house’ which the star had stopped over. This means that some time had passed and the new family had found some better temporary accommodation in Bethlehem (thank goodness). Secondly, Jesus was described as being with his mother (no mention of a manger). As the wise men knelt down to pay him homage I imagine a baby beyond the first few days of life in his mother’s lap, but that is supposition on my part! Thirdly there is no suggestion in the language here that it is a newborn the wisemen see, just a little infant.

There are other things we have embroidered our Christmas imagery with as well as the stables, particularly in modes of transport. There is no donkey in the account of the journey to Bethlehem and no camels are described with the wisemen. Camels are mentioned in that prophecy we heard from Isaiah today. It could well have been camels that the wisemen used but nothing is clearly specified in the gospel.

One of my cards (which is a particularly lovely image) conflated the stories together so much that the shepherds were guided by the star (which was only in the wise men account in Matthew’s gospel) and not an angel is in sight (which are only in the shepherd’s story in Luke’s gospel (In Matthew any angel appearances are in dreams!)).

In many respects none of this is the point of these stories. The two different visits and visitors to Jesus wherever they took place serve to make a number of important points. Firstly the shepherds, were of the Jewish faith, but outcasts in society. It was important for us to realise Jesus was for everyone in that faith and not just for those viewed as most pious and holy. The visit of the wisemen takes us further than this significantly, as this is short hand for people beyond the Jewish faith completely. For them to come and worship, is one of the most significant moments of revelation in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus had come for everyone. This is a really important point and one on which the saving love of Jesus depends. By coming to earth as he did – he was coming to save everyone and open out God’s love to everyone. The old ways of operating with a specific group and the law were passing, and a new way of love was being opened out to everyone.

I also think we need to address whether there were 3 wisemen too – as so many of my cards showed us. I think there would have been significantly more than 3 on this adventure and quest (along with their servants). The reason we think there are 3 is because they brought 3 gifts, there is nothing saying these 2 things (number of wisemen and number of gifts) are actually the same!

The gifts themselves are deeply significant (just as Jesus coming is for everyone). Let me explain. I have seen a cartoon of the wisemen offering gifts to the Christ child. Two of them holding traditional gifts and the third is holding an envelope. In response to the concerned looks of the other 2 kings. The king with the envelope says – Yes I know, but a token is so much lighter and easier to carry!

We need to think about this. Will our response to God and our journey into the unknown of 2023 be a token gesture or will we offer something precious to us? The most precious thing we have is ourselves and our capacity to love, and that is what God longs for us to give him. Perhaps we don’t always think of ourselves as precious. We may well be quite good at putting ourselves down, but the gifts the wise men brought are our gifts too.

Each of us is precious to God – in God’s eyes each of us is special, unique, pure gold. We may have to dig a bit deeper some days to find it, but that is God’s truth about each one of us – precious and uniquely valuable to God.

As well as being pure gold in God’s sight, we also offer our own unique frankincense of worship as we come to God this day and every day. As we attend to life prayerfully and learn about God and his amazing love for us. Through worshipping hearts we learn God’s truth about us as the prophet Isaiah puts it – You are precious in my sight, and honoured.

The third aspect of being precious, in relation to the gifts of the wisemen is the most challenging. We will be tested with the myrrh of suffering. Suffering all around us perhaps but also touching us more personally too. We all know that life has ups and downs and God is with us in all of it, every step of the way. When the going is easy or when the going is tough. Faithfulness to God’s love is part of our response and an important part of our love for God is to keep going, and living hopefully in the light of Jesus love which is as the wisemen so keenly demonstrated for everyone.  

I am going to finish with a prayer to bring all this together Come to us now Lord God, as we offer our lives to you in response to your love for us demonstrated in the coming of Jesus and the visit of the wisemen. Renew in us your gifts,  the gold of our potential, the incense of our prayers and worship and the myrrh of healing for our pain. Feed us and nourish us that we may grow in the life of Christ. Fill us with your spirit that we may overflow with your love and transform the world with your glory. Amen

© Prayer adapted from, The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995