The Vicarage, Blackmore, Essex CM4 ORN
19 - CHRISTMAS - 74
This brings my greetings and as I address the envelope you fill my thoughts and become the subject of my prayers. A number of happenings have made this Year of Grace 1974 a memorable one for me. It will be a pleasant exercise to record subjects which I hope will prove newsworthy and of interest to you.
Let me begin with what lies nearest my heart, the parish and in particular the Church in the parish. We began the year with the Bishop of Chelmsford's "Call to Mission" challenging us to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of the Diocese by renewed commitment to Christ for the extension of his Kingdom. The Jubilee Year was marked by a visit from the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spent Thursday 13th June at Chelmsford meeting clergy and laity and the Diocesan Great Family Day held at Debden Airport on Saturday 13th July. The rain fell continuously but far from being a wash-out, some 7,000 people from all parts of the Diocese met in a family spirit which found expression movingly in the service of Holy Communion, where more than 5,000 remembered our Lord and Saviour in his own appointed way.
From the wider sphere of the diocese to the narrower one of the parish, the visit of the Rev. Dick Rees for an effort in Christian outreach under the Title Contact '74 was a highlight for Blackmore. It was not a case of numerous conversions although two or three made a profession of commitment to Christ. The Anglican and Baptist Churches have found a greater unity. Individuals have experienced a deepening of their faith and a sense of urgency and renewed purpose marks the Church in Blackmore. Although our community is a happy one and much blessed materially, there are who have a great and often unrealised need of Christ.
Looking at the Parish Record for the year there have been comings and goings. Familiar faces have passed away and new faces vibrant with life are in our midst. The newly-weds are adjusting to their changed circumstances and are, I hope, finding rewards the bonds of marriage. A charming girl from the parish married a young man, a fine Christian of the Roman Communion. I shared the marriage service jointly with a Roman cleric and a moving service it was. What a change in relationships from those which obtained but a few short years ago. Work amongst the young continues encouragingly and our Lay Reader is Co-ordinator of the whole age-range, Junior Church, Adventurers and Covenanters. Bible study and prayer meetings look as though they are being better supported since the parish mission. The Parish Gift Day brought heavy showers with driving wind. I was on the green in the village from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. under a large garden umbrella; another I turned about according to which way the wind was blowing the rain. But it was worth it. Parishioners were generous. They brought £257. I had a marvellous hamper lunch and even got my picture in the paper.
Our Young Wives Fellowship thrives as does the Women's Institute. The Blackmore Players, our local amateur dramatic group, put on an amusing one act play at the Parish Harvest Supper and is currently rehearsing the Pantomime, to be presented soon after Christmas. The annual Donkey Derby and Country Fair was a successful occasion and the weather was fine. Involvement with the children of our community as a school manager is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of my life. Our local school is a County Primary so when the children reach ago eleven they go to senior schools outside the parish. We have a good team in the School Head, his Deputy and the Staff, both teaching and others.
A first time ever experience was a trip to the Holy Land in a party organised by the Rev. Dick Rees. We were away during the second half of June. The first week was spent seeing the sights in the south of Israel whilst we were based on the Pilgrim Palace Hotel just outside the walls of the old city of Jerusalem. The second week we stayed at Caesarea on the Sea of Galilee and from there saw the places of interest in the north. The Israelies themselves offer as much interest as the land. For Christians the land and people are inextricably linked and the movement of events only emphasizes the fact. The Israelies have purpose and a will to succeed. We began to see it in the thoroughness with which we were screened at London Airport. Then in the effective way in which the land is being made to thrive. I was also impressed by the taste and skill with which sites and structures of historic interest are being preserved. I am left with a longing to go again.
On a personal note I would like to record my gratitude to God and my parishioners for continuing kindness. I am kept busy and houses are open to me so that what might be the loneliness of my situation is eased. My late wife's only surviving sister died in early October. This was my last link with the family generation into which I married and the loss brought its own poignancy. The onset of angina involved me in one month's enforced rest in the spring and later an injured knee cramped my style considerably. However, at the time of writing, I feel fine, thanks to the medics and to drugs.
During the eighteen years throughout which these Christmas Letters have issued from Blackmore Vicarage there has not which brought two General Elections. The populace seems uncertain and divided and our politicians unable effectively to govern. There is no outstanding leader and in the picturesque language of the Bible our nation is like sheep without a shepherd. Too often one gets the impression that sections of the community secure their own interests because they are strongly placed to do so. We voice a concern for the needy but - after the meeting of our own needs. Panic buying and hoarding are indications of this. Biblical and secular history seem to indicate that when nations experience period of peace and material prosperity, spirituality declines and the people tend to become selfish, soft and lacking in fibre.
The world of nations is knit so closely because of instant communication and speed of travel that isolation is impossible. The major nations with their tools of war and the power to destroy each other with suspicion, and form their own satellite power blocks. Smaller belligerents are equipped by major nations and their fields of battle become the proving grounds of sophisticated weaponry which the major nations may one day use against each other. Strangely, smaller nations sometimes advantages from this state of affairs. Can one imagine the Arab nations being able to hold the world to ransom in respect century ago. But with an oil-sufficient U.S.S.R. to defend the interests of the Arabs the oil dependent West must grin and bear it. Two other factors will have a material bearing on our world as the Twentieth Century moves to a close, pollution and oecology. The poisoning of our environment and man's unthinking disturbance of the balance of nature could well exact a heavy price and that sooner than we think. Yet, in spite of so much gloom, I am glad to live in this age. It seems to me that there never was a time when to know Christ as Saviour and to live in his service, was more rewarding. The Bible-taught Christian is not taken unawares by what he sees taking place around him.
A friend gave me a nicely bound copy of The Living Bible and I have found blessing in reading it through the year. As I bring my letter to a close and remember again that God was manifest in flesh when the baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, I am led to quote from St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, as rendered in The Living Bible:-
"Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. Attitudes and thoughts must all be constantly changing for the better. These are difficult days. Don't be fools; be wise; make the most of every opportunity you have for doing good. Don't at thoughtlessly but try to find out and do whatever the Lord wants you to."
In sending my affectionate good wishes for Christmas and the New Year I pray that God's intent for mankind may be fulfilled in you and me.
MONTAGUE H. KNOTT.