19 - CHRISTMAS - 70
The Vicarage Blackmore, Essex.
It is a pleasant thing to address oneself to the writer of this annual letter. Through the years it has been a means of sustaining friendships which otherwise might have lost some of their significance. This year is different though, for my pleasure is tinged with sadness. Of the fourteen Christmas letters which have originated from Blackmore Vicarage, this is the first not to bear the name of my beloved wife as joint correspondent.
Most of our friends are aware that the Lord took my dear partner to himself on Easter Monday last. After a long a wearisome illness, she had serenity and a glad confidence her Saviour and the future, as she passed from us to him. Both through and since this experience I have been kept busy and the presence and power of the Lord Jesus Christ have been very real to me.
Turning from the personal to the general, the year has been full of interest as regards the parish. Among the events, the Old English Street Market held on 8th August was the most spectacular. Stallholders and others dressed in costume. King Henry II and Eleanor of Acquitaine, his queen, performed the official opening. Ladies and gentlemen of the Court and the Prior of Blackmore (yours truly) were attendance. We raised just on £400 for the Church Restoration Fund. The Parish Gift Day on 28th November (future at the time of writing) will augment this sum.
In last year's letter I could report no progress as regards church restoration. This year it is different. The Sanctuary has been furnished with new carpet, a new table and a new credence table. A new communion rail in the form of moveable houseling benches is set off by the newly carpeted chancel, New seating of linking - stacking chairs on a block floor which has been sanded has transformed the appearance of the nave. There are now framed doors to the West doorway. All this new timber furnishing is in choice oak. Considerable work of a tedious but necessary kind is in progress in respect of the tower. We shall have to find a further £2500 to cover the cost of additional work to the latter.
As regards the living Church. My last Christmas letter mentioned Synodical Government. Now we have it. It's too early to pass judgement but I believe that if the new order is properly used it could benefit the Church of England and make it more effective in the world of our day. Already deanery and diocesan synods have met and, at the time of writing, the General Synod is about to meet. Our Church Annual Meeting earlier in the year was the best attended since my becoming vicar, and was important in a new way because we elected our own Synodical Representatives to the Deanery Synod.
The combined Anglican - Baptist promotion of instruction to young people goes well. Junior Church, Adventurers and Covenanters cater for an age range of four to nineteen years. Brownies and Guides are flourishing but no Cubs and Scouts yet. Our overriding need is for suitable accommodation. A Guest Night Service is a new and further joint effort with our Baptist friends and is held on the third Sunday evening in each month. The Baptists have been greatly strengthened this year with the coming of a pastor. He is a stable Christian with a sincere concern for people and their spiritual needs.
Other parish activities mentioned in previous letters continue. Two happenings are noted. First, our Young Wives Fellowship held a special service of thanksgiving and prayer for family life with a renewal of marriage vows and a rededication of husbands and wives to God and to each other. It is hoped that this will become an annual event. Second, as a parish we took part in a Deanery Lent effort entitled "Christian Outreach", a school for evangelism. We had five first rate speakers and discussion groups enabled those enrolled to draw out the teaching to advantage.
Earlier in the year our local Member of Parliament opened our fine new County Primary School. I feel privileged to serve as Chairman of the Managers. Our parish drama the Blackmore Players have provided very good entertainment and the Blackmore Choral Society is going Fell. At Easter they sang Stainer's Crucifixion and at Christmas will present an arrangement of carols. Other community activities continue to flourish.
For the first time in years I was able to take a holiday lasting through almost the whole of September. I shared of the time with a dear parson friend, enjoying the scene and hospitality of Scotland. I drove home alone stopping en route to visit with friends I had not seen in years, since the early 'forties. It was such an enjoyable experience. I am hoping the way will open up to visit other old friends next year but in more distant parts.
I turn now to my own situation. As can be imagined loss of a partner with whom one had lived in sweet intimancy for forty-three years meant a dramatic change in more ways one. I am so grateful that I was left with happy memories and a sure trust in the sufficiency of Christ my Saviour. The demands of the parish left no time for introspection self-pity, to which one less occupied might have succumbed.
It has been a great help to have someone keep the garden tidy and another to keep the house sweet and clean and to launder my linen, etc. This has left me free to concentrate on my ministerial duties as well as feed myself and do chores. A Christian's life should always be disciplined. That is what disciple means. But I have found an added need for discipline in my own experience since becoming a widower and in the exercise of discipline an added blessing.
The Apostle Paul's exhortation to Timothy challenges and I share it with you in the hope and with the prayer that it might challenge you. Here it is: "Do your best to yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth". Three words stand out, approved - ashamed - truth.
I judge that a person cannot be in a worse case that to be unaware, or unwilling to accept the fact, that everyone's life is lived out before an omniscient Creator. God is, and God is aware, through every hour of one's existence. The only intelligent and acceptable response of man the creature to God the Creator is for awareness to issue in dutiful service. Paul coveted such an attitude for his son in the faith, Timothy. Therefore, he urged him, as the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures would urge you and me, to strive for the approval of God in the ordering of his life; to shun all that would leave him ashamed; and to study the Scriptures carefully that he might teach them faithfully to those about him.
This is what Christmas is all about. The babe that was born to Mary in Bethlehem enshrined in himself the word of the truth, and himself said "I am the truth ... no-one comes to the Father (God) except by me". That truth is preserved and revealed in the Holy Scriptures by means of which, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, you and I may come to the end of life's journey unashamed, with the mark of God's approval upon us because we lived out and told out the word of truth.
May Christmas prove a holy and happy season and the New Year bring the prosperity God designs for you in spirit and body. I send you my affectionate greetings in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Montague H. Knott