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From The Vicar - December 2017

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There has been a lot happening in across the Benefice over the last couple of months.

  Firstly, on Sunday 15th October all creatures great and small were welcomed to St Mary’s in Garsington and St Giles’ Horspath for a special animal friendly Pet Service.  It is around that time of year that we remember Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals, who spoke to the birds and was a friend to the animals, calling them his brothers and sisters.  To celebrate our four footed friends and give thanks for all they give to us, we held two separate Pet Services in Garsington and Horspath.  Both attracted a wonderful array of animals with their owners.  At Garsington we welcomed eight dogs and two cats, while at Horspath we were joined by rabbits and the unusual Madagascar hedgehog like animal called tenrecs, brought by Charles and Julie Gurden.  The Oxford Mail, who heard were were holding this event, sent a photographer and took posed photos before the service which appeared in Tuesday’s mail along with a good write up of the service.  Those who did not have animals brought their soft toy animals.  Chris Drew at Horspath introduced us to his Teddy bear of over 65 years old and we also met a monkey, wombat and Gordon the gopher.

At the service I also told the story of our dog Flossie who was rescued from Ireland.  When she first came to England she was deeply traumatised and couldn’t go on a lead without lying down in a submissive manner.  She was too shy to venture out of the shed even to meet us.  So we decided to take home a more friendly dog called Bess.  It was only when Jonathan went to get the cash to give as a donation that Flossie ventured out and went and placed her head on my lap, looking up into my face as if pleading to be taken with us.  Of course, on Jonathan’s return we told him that we had changed our mind and Floss had to come with us, she had chosen us.  Since then it has taken a while to build up her trust and confidence to become the lovely dog she is today.  Her story was likened to that of St Francis who, through kindness, built up the trust of a wolf that had been ravaging the countryside until they made a pact that the wolf would stop hurting lambs and people and instead be fed daily by the villagers.  A story that speaks of our mutual relationship of need with animals

Secondly, on Remembrance Sunday, 12th November, there was a special Service of Commemoration to mark the centenary of the Passchendaele, the Third Battle of Ypres at 9.30 am in St Mary’s Church, with hymns, readings and prayers to remember those who lost their lives in one of the worst Battles of the First World War.  Two eye witness accounts of the battle were read out, one by a British soldier and another by a German soldier.  Candles were lit during a time of reflection to recall the anguish of those who suffered.  It was a very moving service which sought to not only name the pain of Passchendaele but also to seek reconciliation and forgiveness in a world which still does not know peace.  You can find the order of service, readings and sermon from the event on our website  Many village folk turned out at the War Memorial to mark the two minute silence on Remembrance Sunday.  Next year Remembrance Day falls on the Sunday and we will be holding a special event to mark the Centenary of the end of the First World War.

Thirdly, on the 19th November we held our very own Horspath’s Got Talent at St Giles’ Family Time.  There were seven acts in total including: Katie who played the piano, Marie Heritage shared her hidden talent for painting, I sang a folk song, Eseld danced for us, Pav constructed a Lego toy, Sophia played her cornet and Patrick stood on one leg for 28 seconds.  And a last minute act, whose name we were unable to record, danced to Rihanna’s Diamonds in the Sky and was joined by Sarah in a spontaneous act of joy.  It was a very special service and made everyone who was there feel really good.  Everyone was celebrated for the unique and special people they are and whom God loves, with no evictions.

During the whole of November we ran a series every Thursday evening in All Saints’ Cuddesdon which introduced four saints: Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory.  Collectively known as the four Latin Fathers of the church, these people lived around the fourth and seventh centuries and were very significant in shaping the life, liturgy and theology of the church we know today.  So much so that we still sing the hymns and chants that Ambrose composed.  Mark Chapman opened the series by explaining why we find these particular figures depicted in our churches.  He was followed by leading academics from Ripon College Cuddesdon and Oxford University, including: Rev’d Dr Jane Baun, Bishop Humphrey Southern, Professor Mark Edwards and Regius Professor Carol Harrison.  The aim of the series was to bring the immense wealth of theological learning which we have in the city out into the benefice in an accessible manner.  It was very successful and we hope to run it again next year when we will look at the four women saints: Catherine, Helena, Cecilia and Edburga.

One of the benefits of belonging to a benefice is that together we make a sizable congregation of fellowship and support.  Next year there will be a special Sermon Series running at each of the Benefice services on the first Sunday of the month that will focus on the Beatitudes.  This is as a direct result of Bishop Steven Croft’s invitation to enter into process of discern a Shared Vision for the diocese.  Bishop Steven writes: 

Our world faces many challenges and as such, the world and our nation need us to be the best Church we can be in such a time as this.

During my deanery visits I have found an appetite for a fresh vision and strategy across the diocese and a desire to work together to create that vision in the coming months. As our communities change we must decide where our new priorities lie.

I’ve met over 2000 people who have shared their thoughts with me, and I have spoken of my hope that we can become a more Christ-like Church. This has resonated very deeply with people.  The Beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel speak to us very clearly about what it means to be a Christ-like Church: we are called to be contemplative, compassionate and courageous in all we attempt together.

Each of our preachers are from across the diocese and will be taking one of the Beatitudes as the basis for their sermon.  We in turn will be invited to reflect on their words and our reaction to how we can be more Christ-like through various different forums during 2018. 

Finally, we look forward to seeing you at All Saints’ over the Christmas season.  Below are listed the many opportunities there are to celebrate this very special and traditional time of year, from a Christmas workshop at the school to the family Crib Service for Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass.  So I end with a prayer of blessing for you and those you love this Christmas.

May the light of God guide us all this Christmas, leading us to the place where we will find love.
May the love of God surround each one of us in our homes and friends and families.
May the peace of God keep and protect all creation that we may together give praise to God our Father.
And the blessing of God father and mother of all life;
the blessing of Jesus born and loved by Mary and Joseph;
the blessing of the Holy Spirit who draws us all together in love,
be with us all, and with those who we love and pray for, now and always.  Amen.